New fire halls part of the cost of Saskatoon's suburban sprawl: expert

By 2020, Saskatoon could have two brand new fire halls and two older ones could be decommissioned.

City plans to build new $8M fire hall near University of Saskatchewan campus

Saskatoon Fire Chief Morgan Hackl says the city will ultimately save money and fire response will be more efficient by building two new fire halls and tearing down two older ones. (CBC)

By 2020, Saskatoon could have two new fire halls and two older ones could be decommissioned, but one expert says those won't be the last new stations the city will be forced to build if Saskatoon continues to grow outward. 

One new fire hall is planned for a plot of land on Preston Avenue near the University of Saskatchewan campus and another is already under construction on Clarence Avenue near Wilson Crescent. Those will replace two older fire halls.

The city's fire chief says it's all part of a plan to make sure firefighters can respond to fires quickly and efficiently. 

"Depending on the type of emergency we are responding to, seconds do matter," Saskatoon Fire Chief Morgan Hackl told reporters last week. 

Relocating Fire Station No. 3 from Taylor Street and York Avenue to Clarence and Wilson meant a new fire station planned for the Stonebridge neighbourhood is no longer needed. 

Suburban growth costly: expert

But one University of Saskatchewan expert says having to build new fire stations to accommodate suburban growth is a costly reality.

"It's part of the cost of outward growth and it's one of those costs that isn't initially really thought about when we're making decisions about how we are going to grow as a city," Bob Patrick said.

The proposed new Fire Station No. 5 near the university campus is expected to cost more than $8 million. The fire department says because it's decommissioning the Sutherland fire hall, there will be cost savings. Hackl says it'll mean less overlap of services and the two moves will mean better overall coverage for the city. 

Maps show predicted fire response times across the city. (CBC)

Still slower responses on city's edges

A map provided by the city shows that the areas most under-served and with the worst response times for firefighters are all on the city's edge.

Patrick says it's important to look at the cost of providing things like fire and police service as a reason not to continue to build outlying suburbs.

"As we expand further and further outward that is one of those very, very expensive costs and in terms of fire protection, expensive for not just land values but human safety," Patrick said.

If the city continues to grow, in order to keep up with national standards where response is required within four minutes 90 per cent of the time, Patrick says it's inevitable more new and expensive fire halls with have to be built.

"This is one more reason for growth that would be inward focused — growing up and instead out. At some point we need to think about good development, not just outward growth," Patrick said.

City councillors got their first look at the plans for the new No. 5 fire hall near Preston Avenue and College Drive on Monday. The $8 million construction budget will still have to be approved in this year's budget, which will be debated later this next month.

If approved, it would be expected to open in 2020.