Nova Scotia

Dartmouth fire station staffing topic of fiery public meeting

There were harsh words for Halifax's fire chief who wasn't invited to a public meeting Wednesday night to discuss proposed staffing changes to the fire station in downtown Dartmouth.

Fire chief not invited to meeting on fire station staffing

Hayley McPhail's apartment building caught fire in August 2015. She says firefighters arrived in time to prevent her unit from being gutted. (Stephanie vanKampen/CBC)

There were harsh words for Halifax's fire chief who wasn't invited to a public meeting Wednesday night to discuss proposed staffing changes to the fire station in downtown Dartmouth.

The fire chief wants to bring in volunteers instead of career firefighters to cover three local stations on weeknights and weekends. He has said it will not hurt fire service, but those at the meeting strongly disagreed.

Tim Olive, a former MLA, was one of many people who turned out to Alderney Landing to express outrage at the fire chief's proposal for staffing changes to the fire station just up the street.

"I'm so mad at this thing because we all worked so hard to get us where we are today, adding 10, 12, 15,000 people to our community, new businesses, and now we're going to pull the fire station out and let it burn to the ground," said Olive. 

Most of the people at the public meeting at Alderney Landing spoke out against the proposed changes at the King Street fire station. (Stephanie vanKampen/CBC)

Most of the people who spoke at the meeting, which including Dartmouth residents, firefighters, and business owners, opposed the plan to switch the King Street fire station from being staffed by career firefighters around the clock to having them only on weekdays.

"I'm wondering where they are going to get the money for all the volunteers, and all the training, where are all the people going to come from, to outfit them with gear and continual training. They could just spend the money on the people, and equipment and stations that we already have," said Melissa Dubey, a fire dispatcher.

'More challenging'

The fear is volunteers won't be able to respond as quickly and are not as well trained. 

"I can't say how hard it is to get the volunteers out for the rural stations at times. I've paged out four, five, six times and still don't get anybody," said Dubey.

"I think that making the stations in the city volunteer is going to be difficult and with a lot of high rises compared to just residential buildings in the outskirts, I think that's going to make it more challenging," she said.

There were personal stories too. Hayley McPhail's apartment building on Parker Street caught fire in August. She says her neighbour's unit was "absolutely gutted," but that her own was saved.

"I strongly believe that if there wasn't the response time that there was, that my unit would have been gutted," said McPhail.

"My 17-year-old cat would have been killed, other people on my floor probably would have been killed, I might have been killed myself if I had been in the unit at the time," she said.

Regional council to vote on proposal

The firefighter's union president says no other city in Canada relies on volunteers. 

"Moncton just disbanded their volunteers January 1. Economically no longer viable for them. The city of Dieppe, and I talked to my colleagues there, their fire chief disbanded the volunteers in Dieppe because urban fire fighting is not safe for them, they're not trained to the same level," said Jim Gates.

The fire chief has defended the plan, saying it won't impact the service. Those at the meeting say the proposed change is a slippery slope.

"Let's hope they shake their heads and smarten up," said Coun. Gloria McCluskey, District 5.

The proposed staffing change will come down to a vote. Regional council is expected to make a decision as early as next week.