Corp Comm Connects

Thousands of Newmarket, Aurora homes in response-time ‘red zone’: fire chief
July 9, 2015
By Chris Simon

It would take local fire crews longer than five minutes to travel to about 6,000 existing and yet-to-be-built homes in Newmarket and Aurora, according to a report from Central York Fire Services Chief Ian Laing.

While Newmarket and Aurora have approved a Central York Fire Services master plan update - a document that will guide the municipalities on fire prevention and protection services for the “foreseeable future” - thousands of homes are still sitting in the “red zone”, sections of the towns firefighters say they need more than five minutes to reach.

In Aurora, the red zone includes about 2,800 residences and stretches east of Bathurst Street, from the municipal boundary to Henderson Road.

Newmarket’s red zone has more than 3,000 homes and is in the northwest quadrant and along an area north of Davis Drive, between Yonge and Leslie streets. Almost 260 additional homes are expected to be built in the Newmarket red zone in the next year.

The CYFS mandate is delivered to residents ... in line with the guidelines from the Ontario Fire Marshal’s Office, Laing said, noting the areas affected include three elementary schools and St. Andrew’s College.

The rationale to have a fifth fire station placed in the central area of the two communities was identified in the 2008 master fire plan, the chief added.

Placement of a new station adjacent to a north/south corridor roadway enhances coverage north into Newmarket, as well as the south into Aurora, Laing said, adding response time for the first arriving fire crew will be reduced in the central area by having a new fire station optimally located.

Laing has long called for the construction of a new fire hall in the St. John’s Sideroad area, between Yonge Street and Bayview Avenue, to help address some of the response-time issues. However, CYFS may also need to construct a station in northern Newmarket in the coming years, he said.

In the past, he has complained the department has been waiting years for some service level improvements. And when combined with population growth in both municipalities, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to meet service requirements that were agreed to when the CYFS formed more than one decade ago.

“By maintaining the current four-station deployment model, there are significant challenges ... which may have an effect on the results at an incident and the health and safety of those involved,” Laing said. “The north-central area of Newmarket presents some timely response concerns.”

CYFS aims to respond to calls for service within six minutes, 90 per cent of the time. The National Fire Protection Association has set a standard of six minutes, 20 seconds for response 90 per cent of the time - though it allocates one minute of that for transaction (dispatch), one minute, 20 seconds for turnout - the period between when firefighters disengage from non-emergency activities to when they leave for the scene - and four minutes for travel.

Both Newmarket and Aurora have set aside funds collected through development charges to build the fifth fire station outlined in the master plan so it won’t cost taxpayers, said CYFS joint council committee chairperson John Abel. However, the new crews and operations will have an impact on the tax base.

“But with more homes comes more people paying taxes which will even it out,” Abel said. “The No. 1 priority is to prevent loss of life and the reality is the fire service demand is growing.”

Until the new station becomes a reality, CYFS is putting an emphasis on prevention and education, specifically in ‘red zone’ areas. CYFS even door knocks in the area to assess residential homes for fire safety and working smoke alarms, Abel pointed out.

But adopting the plan does have some immediate benefits. It will allow Laing to begin the search for an assistant deputy chief, Newmarket CAO Bob Shelton said.

Newmarket staff recommends the approval of the master plan update that will guide both municipal councils, he said.

The update attempts to set a number of guidelines for the fire service and it also calls for the hiring of several other new department staff members in the coming years.

But Regional Councillor John Taylor said the municipalities are not bound by the recommendations contained within a master plan. “It gives us guidance on the kinds of investments that may be required in the future,” Taylor said. It’s subject to budget process and the budget pressures that occur each year, he added.

“I can’t know what the pressures will be in six or eight years, so I can’t necessarily commit to those expenditures.”