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First details of fire plan coming next month

Completion slated for January

Steve Thurlow, project lead for Dillon Consulting on Oshawa’s new fire master plan, says his team will “dive as deep” as city council desires in preparation for the new document. However, Thurlow says they will not tell the city what level of service it should provide, but give options for consideration. (Photo by Colin Williamson)

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

Council and the public could soon have initial insight into the city’s new fire master plan and community risk assessment.

Oshawa Fire Chief Derrick Clark told The Oshawa Express he’s finished data collection to present to Dillon Consulting, the firm working on the plan.

“I went into great detail. We’ve provided them with an abundance of data,” Clark says.

The chief hopes Dillon can provide council with preliminary feedback in September.

According to Steven Thurlow, lead on the project, a final report should be ready by January.

Council is starting its budget talks earlier this year, and some members have raised concerns about the timing of the final report.

However, Clark says there will be regular updates throughout the fall.

Ultimately, he doesn’t want to see the fire master plan and community risk assessment rushed.

“For me, it’s not ‘We need to get this done as soon as possible,’ it’s we need to do the right thing,” he says.

Back in February, council resolved to update its fire master plan. The document, originally passed in 2013, was intended to run through 2023.

Last summer, Clark delivered his five-year review of the plan. The chief’s investigation declared 27 of the 31 recommendations within the plan were either completed or in progress.

But the union representing Oshawa firefighters came forward with several concerns.

Peter Dyson, president of the Oshawa Professional Fire Fighters Association (OPFFA), claimed Oshawa’s fire service was lacking resources and staff, especially in the downtown core.

The OPFFA offered to work with the city to develop a community risk assessment with the help of the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF).

However, the offer was turned down.

The union’s community risk assessment was released in October but officially came before council.

The IAFF states Oshawa Fire Services (OFS) can respond with a suppression apparatus to 66.7 per cent of roads in the city within four minutes.

In comparison, National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards dictate services should be able to respond within four minutes 90 per cent of the time, and the OFS’ response time was six minutes nine out of 10 times.

The report indicates OFS is only able to deploy the NFPA minimum of 14 firefighters and one command officer to a low-hazard structure fire 53 per cent of the time. The NFPA states these requirements should be met at a 90 per cent success rate.

The IAFF report calls on the city to add more staff and equipment, namely at Station 1, the city’s downtown headquarters.

Dillon has been directed to meet with union officials regarding the new fire plan.

During a council meeting earlier this summer, Thurlow said these discussions will be very important. Ward 1 city councillor Rosemary McConkey suggested Dillon also reach out to the IAFF as well.

But Thurlow said it wasn’t necessary.

“I want to understand your association’s understanding and interpretation of that document. Speaking to someone in Washington at the IAFF certainly doesn’t help us understand the application in Oshawa,” he says.

Clark says while he doesn’t discredit the union’s viewpoint, it’s not the only one to consider.

“I want to be clear, it’s not the job of the president of the association to write a fire master plan.”

According to Thurlow, Dillon will also begin an online community consultation strategy.

Dillon’s team is also hoping to meet with eight “targeted groups” from the community. Thurlow did not identify who these groups would be.

Councillor Rick Kerr said his district, Ward 4, includes a great deal of the city’s older housing stock.

Kerr said it is essential the residents in this area have a say because they face a high risk of fire. Thurlow agreed, noting the evolution of fire planning is “taking us down to the socioeconomic factors within a neighbourhood.”

“Neighbourhoods can be completely different. They require different education and fire prevention programs,” he adds.

The community risk assessment will be the driving force behind the new plan.

Thurlow says they will identify both key “risks” and “findings.”

Any risks will be determined predominately on the evidence presented to them.

“[It’s something where we would say] ‘We need to be worried about this.’ This is something we need to consider in terms of fire protection,” he says.

Key findings will be areas that aren’t immediate priorities but could become so in the future.

Thurlow said his team will “dive in as deep” as council wants them too.

“We rely on research and science. That’s where we get our methodology,” he says. “The plan we offer will be solidly based on evidence.”

But he made it clear Dillon would not be providing direction to council on its decisions.

“It is not our role nor our vision to come back and tell you what level of services and programs you should provide… that is council’s role. We will provide you with options,” he states.

Ward 5 city councillor John Gray says he needs just the facts, good or bad.

“No sugarcoating. Tell us where the strengths are, and where the weaknesses are. We get better community buy-in at the end when we are not seen as BS-ing our way through something,” he says. “We need solid decisions based on what is needed, not what we think is needed.”

Because Dillon worked on the city’s original plan, Ward 2 regional councillor Tito-Dante Marimpietri has shown apprehension about working with the company again.

He wanted assurance they would be much more “comprehensive” this time around.

“We’ll dig much deeper than 2012… Our objective and scope of work is to identify for council the options for the best fire protection services in Oshawa,” Thurlow said.

Marimpietri said some people don’t want to enhance fire services for financial reasons, and he is hopeful they don’t have too much influence in the process.

Clark told The Express he is very confident with the direction of the project so far.

“It’s going to be a very detailed, guiding report that we can use and the city can rely on for many years moving forward,” he says.