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Fire power: Fire service managing increased workload as city growth surges

Fire Hall 6 sees largest increase in calls

As the City of Oshawa continues to grow, Oshawa Fire Services will continue to deal with an ever increasing workload. As call volumes jumped from 2016 to 2017, Fire Chief Derrick Clark says OFS was able to manage the work without issue.

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

Faced with a city surging in growth, Oshawa Fire Services saw a steady increase to its workload in 2017, including several major fires, but for Chief Derrick Clark, his team is managing the extra work without issue.

“Our data analysis would suggest there is operational capacity still available,” he says, noting that OFS will continue to monitor the numbers and keep Oshawa councillors apprised of the fire service’s need.”

According to information from the OFS annual report for 2017, throughout the year OFS responded to 82 fire incidents, a drop from 129 in 2016.

Of those incidents, exposures, or buildings catching fire as a result of another blaze, accounted for the highest number of incidents at 26, followed by miscellaneous, underdetermined or fires still under investigation at 23. Cooking equipment accounted for 17 fires in 2017, followed by vehicle or electrical fires at 18 and  smoker’s articles or open flame tools at 13.

Of the fire incident 10 qualified as major fires. The major incidents caused nearly $3 million in damages.

Tragically, 2017 also saw one resident die in a fire on Brock Street in February, after a man jumped from a second storey window to escape the fire.

While incidents may have dropped the fire service received 15,370 calls for service, an approximately 3.9 per cent increase over 2016. These calls, while not always requiring a truck movement, require OFS assist to “correct or assist a particular situation.”

In terms of stations, the busiest location for OFS by far was Station 1, the service’s downtown station, with 2,756 calls, followed by Station 2 in the city’s south end with 1,645.

The largest increase in calls was seen at the city’s newest station, Fire Hall 6, in the north end, which saw calls more than double from 240 in 2016 to 483 in 2017.

Clark says these numbers are expected to rise as growth in the north end of Oshawa continues.

“Historically, if you look at Station 5, it had a modest growth year over year from 2013 to 2017,” Clark says. “Redeploying our resources and opening Station 6 has been positive for OFS.”

In order to staff Fire Hall 6 for its opening in 2016, OFS moved staff and resources from Station 1, a decision that was backed up research done for the city’s Fire Master Plan.

Along with the growth in the north end, and the city’s most residential building stock (97 per cent), OFS is also dealing with a city that is changing directions in terms of industry, as Oshawa tries to shift its focus to a more technology centred economy, which could bring a number of different facilities. However, Clark does not see this being an issue.

“New industries generally pose less challenges as they comply with new building and fire codes regulations, such as fire suppression sprinklers and detection systems,” he says. “This greatly reduces fire growth and extension and increases safety to firefighters. Historically, OFS has a very low incident response to industrial incidents.”

Of particular concern for council at a recent meeting of the Community Services committee was the protection for tenants in apartment buildings, as two major incidents, one leading to 2017’s single fire fatality, saw tenants jumping from upper storeys in order to escape.

“Either they couldn’t get out safely…or they couldn’t get out at all,” said Councillor Amy McQuaid-England.

For deputy fire chief Todd Wood, he says that OFS work to ensure that landlords are kept in compliance to fire codes by providing proper escape routes.

“In all situations…the proper means of egress is aided by early detection,” he added.

On top of the workload increase, OFS was the first fire service in Durham Region to equip their fire trucks with naloxone kits to allow firefighters to assist in the event of an opioid overdose.

And while Clark says they don’t track the number of calls received related to overdoses, the OFS has seen an increase in medical calls from 1,345 in 2016 to 1,617 last year.

Clark notes that only twice last year did OFS have to administer naloxone.

“That is because we follow our medical directive and administer oxygen and assist with breathing for two minutes prior to administration, most times EMS is on scene,” he says, adding that he expects these types of calls will continue.

“I’m extremely proud of the staff at OFS and the support I have received by our council. All the incidents in 2017 and beyond have been handled with professionalism, precision and safety. My analysis of our response times have shown we continue to improve, providing effective and efficient service to the residents of Oshawa,” Clark says.