Nfld. & Labrador

Fire services tug-of-war on Fogo Island

The head of the Tilting Fire Services Committee is hoping to curb the Town of Fogo Island's plans to close the station, and instead focus all resources on maintaining the three larger stations.

Council says it's not feasible to keep all stations open for 2,300-person population

The Town of Fogo Island plans to close the Tilting Fire Hall, and instead focus all resources on maintaining the three larger stations. (Submitted by Kayla Lane)

The head of the Tilting Fire Services Committee is hoping to curb the Town of Fogo Island's plans to close the station, and instead focus all resources on maintaining the three larger stations.

It's a local service district that includes 11 individual communities.

Council is planning on closing the Tilting station to save money and focus resources on boosting equipment and training at the remaining three stations — in Seldom, Joe Batt's Arm and Fogo.

But Kayla Lane, co-chair of the Tilting Fire Services Committee, says the closure of the Tilting location would mean increased response times in their part of the island, and potentially more serious fires.

"Especially in the winter months when you're looking at a chimney fire that has the potential to escalate to a structure fire because our fully trained and fully capable firefighters are not able to respond to a fire until Joe Batt's arrives because we have no equipment in the community," Lane said.

It costs council about $18,000 a year to keep the Tilting station open — money council wants to put toward bolstering services in accordance with a report from the fire commissioners' office in 2017 that recommends increasing training and improving equipment.

Lane said there are other ways to save money, like winterizing the building to cut down on heating costs — without closing Tilting's station.

"We don't require the upgrades which they made to the other three stations," she said.

"We just want a structure to house a fire truck that our firefighters can use as a first response while they wait for Joe Batt's Arm fire department coming down with their fire truck."

'Dwindling population'

Fogo Mayor Wayne Collins said it's just not feasible to keep the number of stations on the island open, given the population being serviced.

"We're looking at a dwindling population over the last number of years," he said.

"We had to do some streamlining of our fire departments. You could not expect to maintain six fire departments on Fogo Island with a population of 2,300 people and the tax base that we have — it's utterly impossible to do."

Keeping up with the recommendations from the fire commissioner is vital to maintaining funding, Collins said, adding it's nothing new.

"In light of all that, we had to look at the combining of fire departments, and it's been in the cards for a number of years — ever since amalgamation," Collins said, adding the decision to close Tilting wasn't made without looking at other financial options.

In the meantime, Lane said if Tilting does close, she doesn't think the members — which she said is the second-highest roster of members — doesn't plan to join another station.

Collins said he hopes that when the Tilting station closes, those members will reconsider, adding there is some possibility that response times will be increased, but, in the majority of cases, it's by acceptable amounts.

"I'd say in excess of 90 per cent of the population is just within the acceptable levels, and what we're doing is upgrading out equipment and doing what's necessary to make sure we've got an effective and well-trained fire department," he said.

"But in most instances the response time is within the acceptable levels and I think we have to ensure that continues. There's no doubt that all of us — council and the fire department members as well — they want to be as effective as possible."

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With files from CBC Newfoundland Morning

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