Airdrie City council members heard an updated plan and financial report for a proposed fourth fire hall and multi-use facility that would accommodate fire training and serve as an emergency coordination centre, on June 20. The proposed facility would be located in the northeast quadrant of the city.
After more than an hour of deliberation, councillors voted unanimously in favour of going ahead with functional programming for the new building, considering the options presented and the myriad comments and questions provided by council members.
As such, council instructed the report should then be routed through the Community Service Advisory Board (CSAB) in order to allow for more citizen engagement before coming back to council for a final decision.
During the meeting, Mike Pirie, the newly appointed fire chief of the Airdrie Fire Department (AFD), introduced presenters Isaac Comandante, project advisor, and Jeff Carlisle, project lead, of Behr Integrated Solutions, who both provided a report on the new facility.
According to Pirie, in the fall of 2021, City administration engaged the consulting company to consider options and costing models in light of prior recommendations for a new facility back in 2013.
Carlisle said the purpose of the project is to update alternatives and opportunities for the construction of a fourth fire station; to outline the current response challenges facing the local fire department; and to determine future risks and the ability for AFD to respond to and manage emergencies.
He said one of the biggest challenges for firefighters is maintaining their skills, knowledge, and abilities to the standard set by the Province of Alberta’s Occupational Health and Safety Act, specific to firefighters.
“You need to train and equip your firefighters to do the list of core services [required in the act],” Carlisle said, adding Airdrie has been thus far using a Calgary-based training centre to meet these requirements.
“This has become increasingly difficult to get access to,” he said. “They cancel or they’re overbooked, incurring $60,000 a year in costs to deploy [firefighters]. [There is] an element of risk associated with that.”
The proposed multi-use facility would include a training facility and would address these things, according to Carlisle.
“I would say right now, the Airdrie Fire Department is doing absolutely the best it can in the absence of having the availability of [a] training academy,” he said.
Pirie argued the Calgary Training Academy is inappropriate for AFD’s training needs and requires improvement to their tower and training programs.
“What we need is a facility that we can train on that is modern and allows our staff to be training in their own city while they’re on shift as much as possible and to the standard we need them to be,” Pirie said. “We’re continually reliant on the third-party. We’re always planning a year in advance and never getting to where we need to go.”
Carlisle added the proposed facility in Airdrie would help meet the basic needs of the health and safety act and ensure AFD personnel are prepared and fully equipped to handle local emergencies.
The fourth fire station and the training area would be the last piece of the 2013 Fire Master Plan, he added.
The proposed multi-use facility includes a fire hall, training centre, and emergency coordination centre. It would be built with sustainability in mind, as it would be intended to last upward of 40 to 50 years.
Carlisle said the City would implement a comprehensive public communications plan to ensure the public and taxpayers are “well informed” on the requirements and benefits of the multi-use facility.
Following the presentation, deputy mayor Al Jones said he recognizes the need for a fourth fire hall in Airdrie that would provide ample training opportunities, but added he would like more information on the building's return on investment, such as renting the facility to other municipalities for training.
In response, Pirie said surrounding municipalities have voiced a desire for training facilities to meet their own needs. He noted there is interest in renting an Airdrie facility, but this would not contribute to capital costs or alleviate operational costs to a great extent.
Coun. Ron Chapman said he supports the recommendation to go ahead with additional planning on the new facility, as he doesn’t think one can ever get “too much training.”
“As far as I’m concerned, it could be used for anybody – for public works or anything,” Chapman said. “I think it could be used by so many City departments.”
Pirie agreed the multi-use facility would not just be for the fire department and would be a place for all City staff to utilize and train.
Mayor Peter Brown said he is “100 per cent behind” the safety component and the extension of the facility to City staff, but added he needs to know what the City will be required to invest before moving ahead.
“I want to see the net dollars as best as we can,” he said. “I just don’t feel I have enough information to make a good decision on behalf of our citizens. I certainly don’t want to give the public the impression we’re going ahead with the fire station even though we don’t [have all the details].
“I appreciate this is a high-level report, but $10 million is an enormous commitment – especially not knowing what our future budget next year is going to be, which I can only imagine is going to be significant in so many different categories.”
According to Chapman, there would be a financial implication to tabling the motions and he suggested the council allow AFD and the consulting company to begin pre-planning the facility in order to obtain answers to the questions posed.
In response, Pirie said the AFD is not seeking approval of a fourth fire station at this time.
“Your comments are not lost on me. It’s a lot of money. We should be asking questions and we should be getting you answers 100 per cent,” he said. “What we are asking you for is to accept the report, and to go forward with the pre-planning of [the facility].”