Members of the Beaver Lake Fire Services Committee pretty much took over Wednesday’s city-hosted public consultation meeting at the Beaver Lake fire station.
Committee members came armed with their own microphone and sound system, which they used throughout the meeting focused on proposed changes to emergency services infrastructure.
The City of Greater Sudbury formatted the meeting the same as they have with others in the ongoing public consultation series, as a casual drop-in session where residents could ask questions of city staff.
Instead, community members used the microphone to take turns telling city staff why they believe the city's proposal to consolidate the Beaver Lake fire station into the Whitefish station several kilometers east is a bad idea. Although the microphone was occasionally put to city staff for their response, it was primarily a one-way conversation.
Residents’ amplified voices could be heard throughout the property, which helped reach those who spilled out into the driveway. With more than 100 people in attendance, the fire station was packed.
Beaver Lake Fire Services Committee member Brenda Salo said that in addition to the sound system, they printed off more than 400 flyers encouraging members to attend the meeting, and had t-shirts made reading, “Beaver Lake is on fire.”
“They’re all getting hostile out there because they’re not getting listened to,” Salo told Sudbury.com during the meeting.
City staff, she said, were merely there “trying to sell us” on the plan.
A resident of Beaver Lake for 29 years, Linda Heron told Sudbury.com the plan to consolidate the Beaver Lake station into Whitefish is an admission by the city that they have failed.
There are currently four volunteers at the Beaver Lake station, and during the past five years, an average of one member has responded to each of the 23 emergency incidents that take place in the area annually.
A minimum of four members are required to respond in the first fire crew to arrive on site, meaning the Beaver Lake station has already been supplemented by crews responding from other area stations for years.
As such, most of the Beaver Lake area is already classified as “unprotected” in the Fire Underwriters Survey ranking. A small section at the region’s eastern edge ranks better.
Eliminating the fire station altogether won’t improve the area’s ranking, or response times, Heron said.
It’s the city’s responsibility to ensure each station has enough volunteer firefighters, she said, “but they’ve failed to do that.”
The city’s number of volunteer firefighters has dropped by 38.6 per cent during the past decade, which follows a downward trend seen across North America.
Unsurprised by Wednesday’s turnout, Heron said the public response has been similar to what took place during the last round of proposed changes to fire services took place in 2017, when the controversial “Fire and Paramedic Services Optimization Final Report” was released.
In 2017, area residents threatened the city with a class-action lawsuit, which Heron said they might repeat this time around.
“They’re taking an essential service away from our community,” she said. “People’s lives and property are at risk because (fire services are) not within an effective distance from us.”
Both Ward 7 Coun. Natalie Labbée and Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini attended Wednesday’s meeting.
Labbée initiated the series of public consultation meetings with a motion to city council earlier this year, and said she wasn’t surprised by Wednesday’s turnout, particularly after a similar group came out earlier this month in Skead, where a station is also slated to be shuttered.
There will be much for city council to learn and consider before making a final decision, she said, adding, “There are a lot more layers to this, and it’s not going to be a simple decision,” Labbée said.
Earlier this month, Vagnini submitted a petition to city council with 400 signatures from people striving to save the Beaver Lake fire station.
The Beaver Lake fire station was built in 1977, has a replacement cost of $690,000, and an estimated 10-year capital requirement of $1.38 million.
The 90th percentile response time in Beaver Lake is 27 minutes and 30 seconds (Beaver Lake and Whitefish combined), and would drop by six seconds if the two stations were consolidated, according to the city.
Salo said that after Wednesday’s meeting, committee members would gather at the community centre to plan their next course of action. Members took videos of Wednesday’s meeting for future use, and Salo said a public campaign through local media will be central to future advocacy.
Wednesday night’s meeting was the latest in a series to take place across the municipality. Future meetings will be as follows:
Thursday, April 27, 2023
Falconbridge Emergency Services Station
21 Edison Rd., Falconbridge
5 to 7 p.m.
Hanmer Emergency Services Station
4680 Lafontaine St., Hanmer
5 to 7 p.m.
Wednesday, May 3, 2023
Wahnapitae Emergency Services Station
162 Hill St., Wahnapitae
5 to 7 p.m.
Monday, May 8, 2023
Val Caron Emergency Services Station
3064 Leduc St., Val Caron
6 to 8 p.m.
Dowling Leisure Centre – Boardroom
79 Main St. W, Dowling
5 to 7 p.m.
Wednesday, May 10, 2023
Copper Cliff Emergency Services Station
35 Godfrey Dr., Copper Cliff
5 to 7 p.m.
Wednesday, May 17, 2023
Waters Emergency Services Station
25 Black Lake Rd., Lively
5 to 7 p.m.
An online survey is available by clicking here, and will be open until 4:30 p.m. on May 12.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.