PR Fire Department requests ladder truck

The Town of High Prairie’s fire department used its ladder truck with great efficiencyin putting out a fire at the old High Prairie Regional Health Complex Sept. 18, 2019. The Peace River Fire Department sees value in having the same equipment and is requesting the Town of Peace River purchase one.

Susan Thompson
South Peace News

Peace River may be getting a ladder truck for fighting local fires.

Town Councillor Orren Ford brought up the need for a ladder truck during Peace River town council’s budget deliberations at the regular council meeting on Feb. 24.

“The piece of equipment I’d like to see is the replacement fire apparatus or the pumping apparatus which we have to do this year. Now’s our opportunity to put the aerial on it,” Ford says.

Ford says the next time the Town would have the opportunity to purchase a new truck will not be for another 15 years when the front line apparatus has to be replaced again.

Fire chief Tim Harris attended the meeting.

“We are due to replace our front line unit. They should be replaced at 15 years [and] we’re currently at 17 years.”

He adds the second line unit is 29 years old, that most of the fire fleet is aging, and the maintenance costs over the last year have been increasing. Some trucks have already had to be taken out of service temporarily, with trucks being brought in from the county to support firefighting efforts.

“The requirement for a ladder truck has been on the table for almost 30 years,” Harris says.

The fire underwriter’s survey recommended the Peace River Fire Department get a ladder truck in both 1991 and 2010 because the area has five or more buildings over three storeys high, and the town also has several “high hazard occupancies” such as schools, a hospital, seniors homes, and more.

Harris says the safety of firefighters is also an important consideration.

“The only serious injuries that I’ve seen in the 30 years I’ve been on the department have come from two of our firefighters falling off a roof after trying to cut the roof to control the spread of a fire,” he says.

Ford says he is concerned that despite being one of the larger centres in northern Alberta, Peace River does not have a ladder truck. Other communities that have trucks with a ladder include Sexsmith, High Prairie, La Crete, and High Level.

“With the rooftop operations it does give you the ability to get that overhead stream, especially when you are looking at all of these large box stores that we have…the hospital, the new medical centre, places like that,” Ford says. “So for the line item for $750,000 to get to $1.2 million to me it just makes sense to make that purchase now, and get the equipment that our guys need to do their job properly.”

Harris says the cost of the unit is only going up. In 2015 a unit was $1.08 million and today will be closer to $1.4 million.

He says if a new ladder unit is purchased, the current front line unit will become the second line unit, and the current second line unit which is almost 30 years old will be put into reserve as a backup. Then in 15 years the ladder unit will become the second line unit.

Mayor Tom Tarpey made a tongue-in-cheek suggestion that Ford “arm-wrestle” provincial Municipal Affairs Minister Kaycee Madu to get the cut Municipality Sustainability Initiative funding restored first.

“I’m definitely willing to have that conversation,” Ford says.

Councillor Byron Schamehorn asked if getting used equipment could save some money, even if its lifespan was shorter.

“There is that potential and you’re correct, it then shortens the lifespan of the unit,” Harris says.

“Anything much older than 4-5 years you have to kind of wonder why they’re selling it.”

Harris says lease deals with other fire departments may be possible, but buying new is best and gets the longest use out of the equipment.

The draft budget currently has a tax increase of three per cent to account for almost $300,000 in lost provincial funding.

Director of corporate services and economic development Greg Towne says revenue would have to increase by 3.8 per cent instead of three per cent in order to increase the fire department budget, or about $2 more per month per ratepayer. The equipment would need to be debt financed. The equipment would be listed as debentured money over 10-15 years years.

“It’s a risk,” says Tarpey.

“Well, getting up a tall building is also kind of a risk I suppose,” says Schamehorn.

Harris says a ladder truck can save a lot of time operationally and may allow more of a building to be saved. He says once a roof is compromised then no firefighters can go inside the building or on the roof. Firefighters fought the daycare fire for 17 hours.

“An elevated stream above that building right over the seat of the fire could flood that fire, could have things wrapped up a lot more quickly. With that building in effect we had to let it sort of burn itself out, burn enough of the roof so we could get the water into it,” he says.

Council agreed to see if purchasing the equipment may lead to a fire insurance cost savings for taxpayers, as well as to look at options for where to store the unit, and to talk to neighbouring municipalities.

While an official vote was not necessary, council held an informal vote to add a new ladder truck to the draft budget by increasing the firefighting budget to $1.4 million.

Council has been working through different components of the budget and will vote to approve the final budget at an upcoming council meeting.

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