New Brunswick

Saint John council questions $20M fire budget

Saint John council is considering cutting the city's fire department budget.
Saint John's fire department says a budget cut would force a station closure. (CBC)

Saint John council is considering cutting the city's fire department budget.

It gets $20 million a year, which is one of the highest budgets for a city of its size in Canada.

Council says it may have to make do with less, but the fire chief said it would have to close a station to save the money.

Councillor Susan Fullerton questioned Chief Kevin Clifford at a recent budget meeting.

"If the most money we were able to give you was $18 million ... what would you do?" she asked.

"I'd have to close a station," he replied.

She asked which one, but Clifford declined to name a specific station. He said all were important.

Lower West, Millidge could be closed

Fullerton mentioned the Lower West or Millidge Avenue stations as possible targets for closure.

Blaine Harris of the Saint John West Business Association is worried about the future of the Lower West station.

"About 90 percent of our buildings are made of wood. And of that 90 percent, another 75 of them are connected. So we're all interconnected buildings. If you don't have fire response in your first four or five minutes your building's gone," he said.

Saint John's fire budget is close to that of St John's, N.L., which covers an area with twice the population.

Kathy Tobin escaped a fire last year thanks to the West Station. She was in her flat four blocks from the station when she heard a pounding on her door and a warning the neighbouring flat was on fire.

"The whole side of the building went and the flames shot over," she said recently.

"By the time I came down the stairs, the big ladder truck was here and the other trucks. They had the road already blocked off. They just kept on coming. They were here instantaneously."

The Saint John fire department has already cut an engine company and 16 firefighters. Clifford said that will allow him to work with the $20 million budget into 2013.