Nova Scotia

House fire reignites debate on rural fire service in Halifax area

A Saturday night house fire at Ingramport in St. Margarets Bay, N.S., has renewed the debate over rural fire service in the Halifax Regional Municipality.

Station located 3 kilometres from scene not staffed on weekends

Residents in the Ingramport area said firefighters were slow to respond to the scene of this fire on Meisners Road on Saturday night. (Linda Fougere)

A Saturday night house fire at Ingramport in St. Margarets Bay, N.S., has renewed the debate over rural fire service in the Halifax Regional Municipality.

A fire station just three kilometres from the scene of a fire at 65 Meisners Rd. is no longer staffed on weekends.

"The response was very slow and seemed a little bit disorganized," said Al Fougere, who watched his neighbours' home burn down.

The nearest fire department to this home is not staffed on weekends. (Linda Fougere)

"It never should have happened," said another neighbour, Jack Cossar, a former volunteer firefighter in the area.

"As taxpayers we pay a good deal of money in taxes out here and we don't get the same service as the urban part of HRM. We want the same protection. We want to know when we go to bed at night or leave for a day that someone is looking out for our property," Cossar said.

Response 'met our standards' 

Halifax Fire said it responded 21 minutes after getting the 911 call, a time that is outside the department's 17 minute standard for rural areas.

Even so, Deputy Chief Roy Hollett said the response was adequate.

"For a rural fire service volunteer response it met our standards," Hollett said.

Aftermath from the Meisners Road Fire. (CBC)

Hollett said it's not certain the house could have been saved.

A firefighter without apparatus was on the scene within six minutes of the 911 call but by then the home was fully on fire with flames coming through the roof, Hollett said.

"I won't go so far as to say the house couldn't have been saved but when a structure is heavily involved it puts us in a situation where it's going to be defensive pouring water on the exterior."

Homeowners back at scene  

Days after the blaze the homeowners, Jeffrey and Elizabeth Anning, were still sifting through the charred wreckage. 

The couple declined comment but had praise for the firefighters who responded.

Neighbours say the department did not tap into a nearby lake or even the ocean for water to fight the fire. (CBC)

Some neighbours are more critical, saying the department did not tap into a nearby lake or even the ocean for water to fight the fire. 

Instead they connected pumper trucks in chain to a water source farther away.

Hollett said he would not address that criticism until he visited the scene, but added that sometimes it is not feasible to move large and heavy trucks to closer water sources.

Councillor 'frustrated'

Local councillor Matt Whitman said in a briefing he received Tuesday, the department defended the on-scene decision to bypass adjacent water sources.

The lake is just 150 metres from the house at Mesiners Road.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation. (CBC)

"I'm frustrated. There are two sides to everything but I think things could have been handled differently," Whitman said.

Whitman said there are only two volunteer firefighters available at the Black Point fire station and four are needed before vehicles can be deployed. 

Until more volunteers can be found, the solution is to hire more full-time firefighters with the higher costs that entails.

"If this fire had happened this summer time when we were in our drought more homes would have gone, that whole Meisners Point would have gone up in flames," he said.

The cause of the fire has not been determined.

About the Author

Paul Withers

Reporter

Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.

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