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Plan for fewer fire halls is a plan for more risk.

Any business that intends to remain viable needs to develop a long range plan to manage its assets effectively.  This especially applies to municipalities given the current state of the economy.  County Council is to be congratulated for setting up the Master Fire Plan Committee which spent many hours considering options to meet current standards and maintain an effective fire service for the future.  The Master Fire Plan Committee decided on two different options: the 10 hall plan and the 9 hall plan. Either option will result in lower operating costs with the reduction in the number of current halls and the closing of several halls that are too small or need a great deal of repair in the near future. However, major capital costs would be incurred and Council should be as prudent as possible in the area of capital costs. There is no doubt that the halls in Hillier need to be closed and it is ideal that the County already owns land to construct one new hall in that division.

The concern we have is the motion’s recommended location of a new hall near Picton, in the vicinity of the roundabout.  One of the halls that are recommended for closure in this 9 hall plan is the Mallory Hall which is situated on County owned land, in a strategic location, with ample space for any necessary future expansion.  It is recognized that some minor upgrades are required for this hall at some point.  In the proposed 9 station plan, the cost of available land near the roundabout is unknown and not estimated. The report states an estimated cost of 2.8 million dollars for the 9 station plan plus the cost of property acquisition and the removal of the current house which could otherwise be left in use.  An additional $284,000 of site work is estimated if it is decided to make the site a possible location for an ambulance building. In contrast, the 10 station plan has an estimated cost of 2.3 million and the land should be much cheaper. The capital cost saving resulting from the 10 station plan would be far over $500,000 from the numbers provided and service would be better as the halls would be more geographically dispersed.  A 12 bay Station near the roundabout would become this Council’s monument to excess if approved.

This proposed new hall would be built on prime agricultural land, some of the best in the County and all of Canada. On the subject of removal of land from Prime Agricultural areas, the Provincial Policy Statement requires that there are no reasonable alternative locations which avoid prime agricultural areas. (Item 2.3.5.4 c)3.   Fortunately, the 10 station plan is a very reasonable alternative.  Material from the Ontario Farmland Trust notes that the Province is losing over 130,000 acres of farmland per year to urbanization and other land use changes. This is not sustainable and we need to be doing much more to protect our best land for food production.

A hall near the roundabout would be in an already congested area, especially near a number of homes and a nursing home.  With a number of emergency vehicles coming and going at any hour of the day or night and including the many volunteers’ personal vehicles responding to the hall for a call, the proposed site could cause a safety and noise concern for the local residents.   Another safety concern with this location is for the responding fire trucks and for volunteer firefighters to respond to this hall, for a call anywhere in the centre of Picton, and to the east, including County Roads 7 and 8, the Greenbush area, Glenora Road, Fawcetteville, and McFarland Home as examples. Both trucks and individual firefighters’ vehicles will be required to respond through downtown Picton.  During daytime hours this can present a challenge and potential safety concern, which is multiplied in difficulty in the summer months.

The 10 hall plan proposes a hall be constructed near the entrance to Macaulay Village.  This marginal land is not suitable for agricultural use, and is actually owned by the same company that owns all of the land surrounding the Hill Station that would be closed.  Therefore, it is suggested that the required land might be purchased for a reasonable price since this company may also see an advantage to owning the Hill Station.  This location near the top of the hill on County Road 22 provides easy access to all of the areas previously mentioned, that are to the east of Picton.  Therefore, Main Street can be avoided in many cases.  Also, it is easier to drive a large fire truck down a hill rather than up, additionally aiding response time. An additional  advantage of more halls is that less property owners will find themselves in the unfortunate situation of becoming a longer distance from a fire hall and losing their proximity discount which could be substantial. The reason of course for the discounts which may result from being within 5 or 8 km (depending on the Insurance Company ) from a fire hall is that the risk is then reduced. It follows then that a plan for fewer fire halls is a plan for more risk.

In summary, for reasons of improper land use, excessive capital costs, delayed response times to many locations,  premium increases for many and increased risk, we recommend that Council defeat the motion that calls for the 9 Station Plan to be approved in principle.

John Thompson, Past President,
On behalf of the Prince Edward Federation of Agriculture

Filed Under: Letters and Opinion

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  1. John Thompson says:

    The paramedic station is probably in the best place now. Although the lease will need to be renewed, that shouldn’t be a deal stopper.

    When the current location was chosen, it was advised that being near the hospital was important so that shouldn’t have changed. If both fire and ambulance need to respond to the same call one will arrive first if they have different base locations. That should be an advantage too.

    A Master Plan that was about two years privately in the making should not have been given what was intended to be a final push to the traffic circle area in a timeframe of two weeks.

    Whether the 10 station plan would put a hall on the Heights or the Industrial Park, Picton and East would be better served. Examples would be the MacFarland Home and the increased senior facilities which may be built there as well as the Glenora Road area.

  2. Gary Mooney says:

    I think that I saw a reference to maybe putting a paramedic station at the traffic circle on the same property as the fire station.

    Given that the most common dispatch of fire vehicles is for medical emergencies, not fires, wouldn’t it make sense to put paramedics and firefighters in separate locations? It doesn’t make sense for both to respond from the same location.

  3. Gary Mooney says:

    Here is a map showing the County’s 12 fire stations:
    http://tinyurl.com/crv7rsp . And here is a link to the staff report to Council: http://tinyurl.com/co692tb .

    It’s clear that replacing the Consecon and Hillier stations with one new station in the same area is appropriate.

    Re replacing three stations — Mallory (Bloomfield), Picton (Ross St.) and Heights (Picton airport) with a major one at the traffic circle (total number 9), it’s not so clear that this is the best solution.

    The alternative suggested to Council was to expand Heights to be the major station and keep Mallory (total number 10). But these two staations would be close to each other.

    Others have suggested putting the major station in the Picton Industrial Park. This 10-station solution (keeping and maybe expanding Mallory) may be a better solution, in particular for avoiding on Picton Main Stree. I haven’t read the full report yet so I don’t know if the Industrial Park was considered.

  4. Richard Parks says:

    Mark: The Zoning bylaw in effect in Hallowell Ward in Dec 2006, allowed for Commercial development on Prime Ag.Land
    The Province leases the OPP Building from a private owner.
    If memory serves me, the Mayor and Council tried to persuade the Province and builder to look at serviced lands closer to Picton, but to no avail.
    The OPP building, and some land surrounding it was severed from the farm lands about 2 yrs later.
    There are any number of examples in the past 5-10 yrs where the Province has said in comments to The County that they were against development on Prime AG. land, but, when faced with actualy stepping in and doing something , they look the other way.

  5. Mark says:

    Thanks John. So help me understand this. The municipality could not deny the ORC buying land which I presume had to be severed and constructing the OPP station on prime agricultural land. But the municipality can deny a landowner from severing and selling a lot for a new home on prime agricultural land. Is that correct? Are there different rules for the province than for a County landowner?

  6. John Thompson says:

    Good question Mark. The Mayor and Council did their very best to block the bulding of the Police Station on that prime agricultural land but to no avail as the Province allowed it. Municipalities don’t have the final authority over these things.

  7. Mark says:

    And how did the Ontario Realty Corporation acquire the OPP property and who approved the construction on prime agricultural lands? Were there objections to this?

  8. Brian Conway says:

    I totally agree with John Thompson.
    But not to grant the Fire Dept. a shiny new hall near the roundabout is to fight the “me too” spirit which says: “If the Police can get a highly visible new station near the roundabout, then the Fire Dept must get one too, otherwise they look less important.”
    Ditto the Ambulance Service.
    Please, public agencies, focus on public service, not public status.

  9. John Thompson says:

    With regards to our position on the use of prime agricultural land, we were referring to the PPS which requires that there are no reasonable alternative locations. In the case of the fire hall, alternative locations are availble which would be more economical and provide better access to Picton and east.

  10. Louise says:

    I believe the foundation that was built for the solar factory is no longer going to be used for that purpose so why not use something that is there on serviced land that belongs to the county instead of buying some new land someplace and increasing traffic in an area that has a lot of traffic now.
    The round-about is a dreadful place to put anything

  11. Mark says:

    If someone brings into question the convenient objection of protecting farmland from one alternate use but supporting land use for another industry that is front and centre, I believe it is a legitimate related question and in no way is an attempt to hijack the subject. In fact it nourishes discussion and encourages thought for those that should have a master land use plan as opposed to one that serves a particular interest at any given time. Having said that I believe the area of the roundabout is a poor location in comparison to the industrial park which provides far better access and response to the greatest population and outlying areas.

  12. John Thompson says:

    That’s right Ken, the Fire Master Plan should be the issue of this discussion.

  13. Ken Globe says:

    Hijacked by the third response, a new record for you David.

  14. David Norman says:

    @ John Thompson… I was not questioning your take on fire hall placement… and I have no idea of your motives for the clever reasoning you presented for justifying the use of agricultural land for the massive concrete foundations of Industrial Wind Turbines and their access roads, but it is hypocritical. And they can ride their shinny new tractors, paid for by the increasing Global Adjustment fees on everyones electrical bills while the non-participating neighbors take huge losses on their property values and are subjected to the noise and flicker, just so they can get to their crops a little easier on their nice new road also paid for by all of us.

  15. John Thompson says:

    @David, farmers in other areas have found that wind tower access roads take about 1 acre of land which may be marginal or prime. However, they are getting the advantage of using these roads productively for getting the crops out at harvest and some extra income can be used to help replace some needed equipment etc.

    In the case of fire halls, marginal land is available at lower cost and more households can be closer to a hall when there are more of them. This results in lower insurance costs as the Insurance Companys equate closer distances to lower risk. Mallory Hall can still be used in the 10 hall plan so the taxpayer would be better off. I think it’s best to pick your reason and oppose the 9 hall plan as being the only one that the consultant is to consider.

  16. David Norman says:

    @ John Thompson… could you explain why you’re against using agricultural land for a fire hall and yet you endorse sacrificing many acres of agricultural land for Industrial Wind Turbines?

  17. John Thompson says:

    If Macaulay Village is not the best location for use in the 10 station plan, perhaps there is space in the industrial park. The 10 station plan is more economical because the Mallory Hall would be retained. Either way, prime farmland can be avoided. As fire services are more centralized, the response time will increase with the longer driving distances. The less halls there are means that more households will face an increased insurance cost and increased risk. Very few will get a reduced premium from the new locations.

    Unfortunately from our view, Council has directed the consultant to only consider properties in the vicinity of the traffic circle. Call your Councillor if your are concerned before it is too late.

  18. Louise says:

    Good sensible letter John. i am not sure where in the round about area they propose to put but I do not think it should be put there. Anyway the county can not afford todo a ot of construction

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