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Oshawa commits to purchasing generators for all fire halls
April 12, 2017
Reka Szekely  

Following three years of debate on the issue, Oshawa council has committed to purchasing generators for four fire halls that don't currently have a backup if they lose hydro power.

It will cost the city roughly $385,000 to purchase generators for Fire Hall 2 located at 1111 Simcoe St. S.; Fire Hall 3 at 50 Beatrice St. E.; Fire Hall 4 at 50 Harmony Rd. N.; and the newest addition, Fire Hall 6 at 2339 Simcoe St. N.

The city has been considering the issue since 2014 after the 2013 ice storm knocked out power to Fire Hall 2 in south Oshawa. At the time, then fire Chief Steve Meringer said the city considered purchasing generators after the 2003 blackout but it was deemed too expensive.

Fire Hall 1 on 199 Adelaide Ave. and Fire Hall 5 at 1550 Harmony Rd. N. currently have generators. Fire Hall 1 is the dispatch and communications centre while Fire Hall 5 is the emergency operations centre.

Current fire Chief Derrick Clark explains there are a number of challenges if a fire hall loses power for a prolonged period.

"The ice storm was a good example," he said. "There was no food, there was no food preparation available, there was nothing open so our guys were going long hours and we were trying to bring in food for them. So just health and safety as well and our ability to respond in a timely manner."

A prolonged power outage also stresses the alerting system as batteries for the radios have to be recharged.

"They can last a few hours but beyond that we would have to have a plan for that and that would be moving trucks around to try to get that facilitated," explains Clark.

If trucks are moved to other fire halls, that can impact response times.

Lights in fire halls last about 90 minutes and the heat was knocked out in Fire Hall 2 during the ice storm.

According to the Oshawa staff report on the issue, during the ice storm firefighters had to manually open the bay doors, which were left unsecured in the wake of the storm.

"We count seconds in response, so when someone's having a heart attack or someone's trapped in a fire or a car or whatever, seconds truly count," said Clark. "So to take the time to push the doors up manually, to pull them down manually, to get back on the truck, they all add to our response times as well so that does have an impact."

According to OPUC data, there were several sustained power outages at Oshawa's fire halls between 2011 and 2016 including 35 at Fire Hall 2, 24 at Fire Hall 3 and 22 at Fire Hall 4 during the six-year period.

Coun. Amy McQuaid-England pushed for generators at fire halls following the ice storm and at Monday's council meeting she questioned why Oshawa's newly opened Fire Hall 6 was built without a generator. The line item was included in the initial budget for the facility but was cut to lower costs.

The generator and installation is projected to cost $100,000 with $19,000 coming out of the Fire Hall 6 budget and $81,000 coming from the city's fire equipment reserve.

McQuaid-England said she believed that adding the generator would push the Fire Hall 6 project over budget.

But city manager Jag Sharma said adding a generator is outside of the scope of the fire hall project which did not ultimately include the generator and the scope of the project was identified by the former fire chief.

At one point the city considered purchasing a mobile generator, but the most recent report on the issue stated that it would not be feasible if two or more fire halls lost power at the same time.

Chief Clark said rewiring work at fire halls may have made a mobile generator ultimately more expensive.

"I think the firefighters deserve to have the generators available so they can do their job appropriately and I just hope we never run into a situation again that we ran into in (2013) where we had firefighters without heat, without power and were unable to respond to possible emergencies," said McQuaid-England before council ultimately voted unanimously to approve the purchase and installation of the generators.