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Fire review: Downtown response times under microscope

Response times have improved over last four years, chief says

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

The current staffing levels of Oshawa firefighters and response times in the downtown were of particular interest during a special meeting of council to discuss the midpoint review of the city’s Fire Master Plan.

The review, delivered by Fire Chief Derrick Clark shows that overall, Oshawa Fire Services has been able to improve their response times across the city despite a booming population growth that has exceeded expectations projected in the original master plan created in 2013. Overall, as call volumes have increased by 16.3 per cent over the last five years, Clark says OFS has seen an improvement in response times over that time period.

The document also notes that OFS “turnout times”, that being the amount of time it takes from the initial call being received to having a crew on route to the scene are on par with industry standards, while the travel times of OFS are in fact above the industry standards. With that noted, the “total response” time is slightly below the industry standard set at 384 seconds (or about six and half minutes). Between 2006 and 2011, Oshawa averaged 434 seconds, a number that dropped to 424 seconds between 2013 and 2017.

The general improvement in overall response times is due in part to the opening of Fire Hall 6 in north Oshawa, which greatly improved the service’s response times to the new developments in that area as well as Oshawa’s northern hamlets.

However, the shifting of resources and a truck from Fire Hall 1, the city’s downtown station, in order to staff Fire Hall 6, has drawn questions from members of council as well as the Oshawa Professional Firefighters Association (OPFFA).

In terms of calls, Fire Hall 1 receives the highest number of calls, a trend that has been ongoing since 2013. In 2017, the station received 2,756 calls, much higher than the next closest station, Station 2, which received 1,645 calls.

The numbers had Councillor Amy McQuaid-England questioning how the recommendation was made to pull a fire truck out of that station in order to equip Station 6.

“It has the highest call volume and it also has the highest number of deaths and injury,” she said.

However, Clark noted that comparably, Fire Hall 1 doesn’t deal with a substantial number of calls.

“Station 1 is the highest response, there’s a lot of municipalities doing a lot more response out of a single station,” he said.

Councillor Gail Bates also inquired about the training facility that OFS has been looking to develop, a business plan for which Clark says should be coming later this year. Along with that, the hiring of an additional inspector is being assessed, a recommendation that was made in the 2013 Fire Master Plan.

As it stands, Clark’s update notes that 27 of the 31 recommendations from the 2013 plan are either initiated or implemented.

It is also noted that OFS is moving forward with plans for a seventh station.

For Peter Dyson, the president of the OPFFA, he says overall, he’s not happy with the review and its lack of data.

“I am disappointed in the report for its substance and lack of thoroughness. This report does not dig deep enough into the current level of service to adequately assess if the fire service is meeting our communities needs with our changing realities,” he says, noting that the union is supportive of the development of a training facility and the hiring of an additional inspector. However, he disagrees that staffing is adequate at current levels.

“We disagree with the Chief where he states that current staffing is sufficient. This is where a report such as the one we are developing will provide the necessary information to properly assess this critical area.”

Currently, the OPFFA is in the midst of creating a community risk assessment for the entire city of Oshawa alongside the International Association of Firefighters.

“As firefighters responding to the city’s emergencies every day, we feel there is an urgent need to look at our capabilities and that needs to be part of any report given to council. Without a proper measurement against the industry standards we do not believe that can happen,” he says.  “If there’s one thing taxpayers expect their tax dollar to do, it’s to protect them and their family, and their home.”