Sweeping changes have been proposed for the city’s emergency services infrastructure, with a series of public meetings beginning on April 4 to set the record straight and gather feedback.
To help set the stage for these meetings, which are being hosted by the City of Greater Sudbury, Sudbury.com has dug deep to pull together relevant context to help make better sense of what has been proposed, why it has been proposed, and points of public contention.
What has been proposed?
Between a report by U.K.-based Operational Research in Health Ltd., supplemented by Greater Sudbury Fire and Paramedic Services Chief Joseph Nicholls, the following has been proposed for the city’s emergency services stations:
- Consolidate Skead and Falconbridge into new ideal site for Garson
- Consolidate Val Caron and Hanmer at current site in Val Thérèse
- Consolidate Vermilion Lake into Dowling
- Consolidate Beaver Lake into Whitefish
- Consolidate Wahnapitae and Coniston at new ideal site
- Consolidate Waters, Lively and Copper Cliff at a new location on Anderson Drive in Lively
- Consolidate the Azilda paramedic station with the existing fire station
The new plan also proposes relocating the Minnow Lake station northward to the area of The Kingsway and Falconbridge Road.
Why have changes been proposed?
Nicholls said the proposed changes would help resolve various longstanding concerns.
“We’re not addressing all the modern needs of a modern service — larger garage spaces, washroom and shower facilities to wash the products of combustion off of (firefighters) that can potentially lead to cancers that are presumptive in fire services for compensation,” he said.
“Although it has operational implications, it’s an asset renewal project, and that’s what we’re trying to do. ... We’ve looked at this several times, and we know we can deliver relatively the same level of service with fewer halls.”
The hope, he said, is that, “future generations aren’t saddled with trying to maintain 24 stations that are in a terrible state of repair and are constantly costing us money.”
The city’s 24 fire/paramedic stations range in age from 17 years of age (Azilda) to 70 (Lively). The average age of the city’s career stations is 43, and the average age of volunteer stations is 50. The life cycle for stations is approximately 50 years.
The cost of maintaining the city’s 24 stations is expected to hit $43 million over the next decade.
Communities rallying to retain their fire halls
Residents of Skead and Beaver Lake have pushed back against proposed fire station closures in their respective communities.
Skead community steward Nicole Everest noted that past reports advocated for keeping their community’s station open.
“Were the Skead station to be closed, one may anticipate that for occupancies in the current Skead service area, response times are likely to increase by at least 15 to 20 minutes,” according to IBI Group’s 2014 “Comprehensive Fire Services Review.”
Ward 7 Coun. Natalie Labbée tabled a 417-name petition “and growing” from Skead residents earlier this year which aims to save their fire station.
Beaver Lake community advocate Brenda Salo is working on a petition to save her community’s fire station, which had approximately 350 signatures as of last month.
Volunteer firefighter numbers have been dropping
Declining volunteerism within city fire services has helped the city justify closing certain halls.
A firefighting crew of at least four is required to respond to calls. In many cases, stations have failed to gather enough firefighters and have relied on other stations joining them.
An average of one volunteer firefighter has responded to calls out of the Beaver Lake and Skead stations in recent years, meaning additional stations have already been responding, relegating the two stations to redundancy.
But, community stewards vying to keep their fire stations open argue that it doesn’t have to be this way.
In Skead, Everest said, there’s a “lack of interest from the city” in recruiting firefighters — a point city officials have denied, pointing to various recruitment efforts over the past several years, including flyers and signs installed on roadways.
In the event Skead got enough volunteer firefighters that they no longer had to rely on crews from Garson and other stations, she said it’s fairly obvious local response times would plummet.
This, however, will prove a challenge.
The total number of volunteer firefighters working out of Greater Sudbury’s fire halls has dropped by 38.6 per cent during the last decade, from 339 in 2012 to last year’s 208.
New training requirements mandated by the province require volunteer firefighters to complete at least 220 hours of training, which is a significant jump from the 40 hours currently required.
The compliance date set by the province is July 1, 2026, and the Christian Labour Association of Canada, which represents volunteer firefighters, has argued the city has been too inflexible in achieving the requirement.
Under the current volunteer situation, response times are projected to decrease in the event all of the Operational Research in Health Ltd. recommendations were to be enacted. Ninetieth percentile response times in Skead would decrease by nine seconds, according to their report. The city’s overall response times would reduce by an average of 10 seconds.
Controversy dogged proposed changes even prior to release
Even before the Operational Research in Health Ltd. report was released, controversy dogged it due to a page from the report leaking to the public.
In November, Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier made an unsuccessful attempt to have the city release the report immediately.
Although the Operational Research in Health Ltd. had been released to the city several months earlier (it’s dated Feb. 2, 2022), Nicholls hadn’t completed a report to accompany the outside report alongside staff recommendations.
City council opted to reject Montpellier’s request by waiting until December for the document’s release in concert with Nicholls’ response. When December came, it was revealed that Nicholls recommended a few exceptions to what Operational Research in Health Ltd. proposed.
It’s regular practice for the city to hold onto reports until staff have prepared an accompanying report with proposed motions for city council to consider.
The spectre of the controversial 2017 “Fire and Paramedic Services Optimization Final Report” may have also muddied the waters.
Although the 2017 report shares some similarities with the current report, including the recommended consolidation of certain fire stations, the 2017 plan was much broader in scope.
The 2017 plan proposed shifting fire department staffing from 108 career and 350 volunteer firefighters to 166 and 135, respectively.
The current plan does not propose any change in staff or taxation, and sticks solely to infrastructure.
Here’s some more reading material
For the controversial 2017 plan, which city council ended up unanimously voting down, click here. Although the report provides some history, its contents are not currently being considered.
The city plans on posting more information about the proposed emergency stations plan on its Over to You page in the coming days. It can be found by clicking here.
The question of potential cost remains unanswered
Although various reports have cleared up most questions regarding what has been proposed, the question of what the changes might cost has yet to be answered.
On Feb. 13, the city published a request for proposals titled “Community Safety Station Revitalization - Architectural Financial Analysis,” which closed on March 8.
The city has yet to award a tender, with bids submitted by Sudbury-based Bélanger Salach Architecture and Waterloo-based Masri O Architects.
The project, budgeted at approximately $100,000, follows through on a successful motion by Mayor Paul Lefebvre for the city to draft a report on the financial implications of a few options:
- Status quo, wherein all existing stations receive the current level of maintenance.
- Existing footprint, where all current stations are repaired and renovated as required to fulfill expectations associated with emergency services legislation and service requirements.
- Changed footprint, where in accordance with the recommendations presented, a combination of renovations and consolidations occur to the city’s fire and paramedic stations.
The successful proponent is expected to deliver a presentation to city council on the cost estimates of the three options on June 27, according to the request for proposals document. The proponent’s construction costs estimate is to be submitted to the city no later than May 26.
Public meetings times and locations
After announcing their initial slate of meetings, the city rescheduled a couple of them. The following is the latest from the city regarding their series of public meetings regarding proposed emergency services infrastructure changes.
Tuesday, April 4
Minnow Lake and general session
St. Charles College - Cafeteria
1940 Hawthorne Dr., Sudbury
6 to 8 p.m.
Thursday, April 13
Coniston Emergency Services Station
7 Second Ave., Coniston
5 to 7 p.m.
Skead Community Centre
3971 Skead Rd., Skead
5 to 7 p.m.
Wednesday, April 26
Beaver Lake Emergency Services Station
7535 Highway 17
5 to 7 p.m.
Thursday, April 27
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
Wahnapitae Emergency Services Station
162 Hill St., Wahnapitae
5 to 7 p.m.
Monday, May 8
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.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.