What is being proposed?

    In the 2019-2027 Strategic Plan, City Council outlined priorities that include reviewing the 24 Fire and Paramedic emergency response stations to find the ideal number and locations needed in our community to achieve sustainable asset management and timely emergency response while ensuring we maintain or improve service levels.

    To accomplish this review, City Council approved engaging Operational Research in Health (ORH) Limited to conduct the review, something the company had done around the world and in Ontario, including in Guelph, York Region, Muskoka and Simcoe County.

    Of the 24 stations reviewed, the report determined nine stations were in areas thought to be generally ideal in delivering emergency response. Four of these areas have the potential to be relocated elsewhere in the service area. The remaining stations received recommendations related to consolidation, each noted as having minimal impact to our emergency response. 

    The recommendations being proposed support only the buildings and locations and do not reflect any reductions to existing staffing levels. 

    What is wrong with our existing stations?

    We fully acknowledge that sustaining 24 stations is not practical, the recommendations outlined by ORH gives us a plan to better manage our municipal assets while maintaining service level expectations. 

    Currently, the City maintains 24 fire and paramedic response stations, expected to offer at least 50 years of service, when appropriately maintained. Most stations are in the later stages of their life span with only two stations being under 30 years old. The newest fire hall was built in 2008 in Azilda. 

    With most of the stations in the later stages of their expected life cycle, we need to spend more on maintenance, despite some of the buildings not meeting our needs from an operational perspective. 

    With a need for additional significant capital investment for planned projects and an operating budget that is falling short of funding unplanned major repairs, the maintenance needed is outpacing the capacity of the existing budgets.

    Which stations are affected and why?

    The full ORH report can be found online with the following providing a summary of the findings, as they related to the current fire and paramedic station locations:

    Analysis across the full-time staffed stations determined:

    • New Sudbury (Leon Street), Long Lake and Val Thérèse would remain at their current sites.
    • Minnow Lake Station is in the least ideal location of all 24 stations and would be best located in the area of the Kingsway and Falconbridge Road.
    • Van Horne Station would be ideally located 500 metres north.

    Note: Moving Van Horne Station 500 metres down the road is not supported by staff because there is currently no property available.

    In analysis of the part-time / volunteer staffed stations, the report determined the following:

    • Capreol, Levack, Dowling, Whitefish and Chelmsford should remain at their current sites.
    • Other findings include several stations could be consolidated without compromising overall response or changing staffing levels including:
      1. Consolidate Skead and Falconbridge into ideal site for Garson
      2. Consolidate Val Caron and Hanmer at current site in Val Thérèse
      3. Consolidate Vermilion Lake into Dowling
      4. Consolidate Beaver Lake into Whitefish
      5. Consolidate Wahnapitae and Coniston at ideal site
      6. Consolidate Waters, Lively and Copper Cliff at Anderson Drive
      7. Consolidate Azilda at Chelmsford

    Note: Staff does not currently support consolidating Azilda and Chelmsford stations where the risks do not outweigh the benefits.

    The recommendations outlined in the review of paramedic response stations determined most of the current resources are already appropriately deployed with one note:

    Consolidating the paramedic and fire station in Capreol would reduce operating costs without impacting staff and response times.

    How much will this plan cost?

    Staff received direction from City Council to consult the public on the plan while conducting a financial analysis. We are in the process of hiring an architect to determine the renovation needs and develop estimated costs for the project. This report is anticipated to return to City Council in June, 2023.

    For some context on funding, since 2014, fire and paramedic stations in our community have seen $1.8 million in investments, including $1 million taken from holding accounts, operating budgets, and reserves, to manage unplanned repairs. Related Building Condition Reports have noted costs could escalate and could exceed $43 million just to get buildings to a good state of repair and does not reflect operational and health and safety matters.

    Will these changes affect the time it takes for emergency services crews to respond?

    ORH was asked to determine the ideal number and location of emergency response stations. The company used several datasets including five years of local response data, from 2016 to 2020, to test millions of simulations to better understand the overall impact to emergency response under the proposed consolidated model.

    Paramedic stations have been identified as being ideally located in both their existing and proposed locations, and so, moving them to new sites as discussed in the report has the potential to improve response times as well as benefitting staff.

    In respect to fire stations, ideally, four or more firefighters should be responding in the first fire truck during an emergency response so that appropriate measures or action to mitigate the situation can happen as soon as they arrive. This not only benefits residents but also increases safety for the responding firefighters. Looking at the modeling from consolidating fire stations, we can have more firefighters responding to a call from a centrally located station.

    With most of the stations directly affected being volunteer fire stations, how would these changes affect volunteer firefighters?

    The supported recommendations reflect the buildings and their locations and do not reflect any reductions to existing staffing levels. Staff reporting to stations that are recommended for consolidation will be assigned to the next closest location and remain active with the service. Recruitment efforts to attract and retain volunteers will continue throughout the community.

    What is FUS and what impact will consolidating stations have on the FUS rating?

    The Fire Underwriter Survey (FUS) is a national organization that collects information about the quality of public fire protection in each community.

    Grades are evaluated based on factors such as the reliability of the water supply, proximity to an emergency service station with appropriate staffing, and age of the fire apparatus.

    There are different grades for residential (one to five) and commercial (one to 10) properties that help the insurance industry establish fire insurance rates. While FUS helps the insurance industry interpret the grades, it is up to the individual private companies to establish the policies that set their rates.

    While the reliability of the water supply will stay consistent, consolidating emergency response stations will improve the FUS grades by increasing the number of staff at fire stations and rationalizing apparatus to ensure all front-line trucks are under 15 years of age.

    What happens next?

    Public engagement is taking place in April and May with both in-person and online opportunities to provide feedback.

    A financial analysis is also being conducted to determine the overall costs association with these recommended changes. The financial plan will reflect three options, as outlined by City Council, including status quo, existing footprint and changed footprint.

    Findings from public engagement and the financial plan will be brought back to City Council in June 2023.