Fire chiefs address concerns of downtown Airdrie resident
Airdrie fire officials met with a few concerned residents on Oct. 1 to answer questions and concerns about the prospect of the closure of the Main Street firehall.
Chief Kevin Weinberger and Deputy Chief Garth Rabel of the Airdrie Fire Department (AFD) sat for over an hour at the Chinook Winds Fire Station with Ken Cunningham and Clark and Judy Jensen. Cunningham’s wife Debbie arranged the meeting and conversed with the group via telephone.
Debbie’s concerns stemmed from the prospect of Airdrie no longer having a firehall in the downtown core an idea that was brought forward by the Airdrie Fire Department in an attempt to improve response times as the city grows and expands.
“Right now, we’re not meeting our response time requirements in the city’s northwest,” said Rabel.
“Ideally, we would like to have a firehall in each of the city’s four quadrants.”
The department has been looking at acquiring land to build a new firehall in Gateway, as was presented to City council in March in AFD’s 10-year fire master plan. That proposal has since been quashed due to its proximity to a school that would lead to heavy traffic congestion.
The Reunion neighbourhood has also been proposed as a potential location for a new firehall; if and when this new hall is built, fire crews at the Main Street location would be transferred there.
This is where concerns lie for Debbie who lives in Airdrie Meadows. The Main Street station is currently the first responder to her home.
“My concern is that if they move this station out of the downtown, there’s no station east of the train tracks to respond,” said Debbie. “Our first responder would be the Chinook Winds firehall, but if there’s a train derailment that blocks the crossing, then it’s King’s Heights.”
Chief Weinberger said the AFD’s current response time is five minutes and 26 seconds on average and their chute time (time to get out of the station) is 71 seconds.
Rabel explained that the reasoning for stations in four quadrants rather than one in the core is to combat traffic flow, as getting into the core is often faster than getting out.
According to Weinberger the department’s master plan that was brought before council in March is merely a list of recommendations and proposals at this time, and nothing has been set in stone as was made clear by Alderman Ron Chapman, who attended the meeting on Oct. 1.
“Council simply endorsed this master plan, nothing has actually been approved yet,” said Chapman.
Rabel echoed Chapman’s statements, saying the plan must be carefully examined before council approves it.
“We look at everything, from our operations to risks such as railways, staffing options, equipment and service levels,” said Rabel.
Final approval of the master plan is expected to be read sometime later this year.
Debbie remained steadfast that moving fire services out of the downtown core was putting residents of that area at greater risk and that they would not be getting proper service levels.
“We’re at risk in the downtown core,” said Debbie. “With the population increasing, we have to be looking after all of our citizens.”
Aldermanic candidate Jane Anderson attended the meeting and asked for a brief recap of the chief concern of those in attendance.
Clark Jensen reiterated what Debbie said.
“We’re concerned about being without a firehall in the core,” said Jensen. “That will be the at-risk area if trains are passing through or if there’s traffic disruption, the fire houses on the west side of the tracks won’t be able to get in to the core.”
Anderson responded with advice that the residents in attendance remain vigilant and approach City council with their concerns.
“My best advice would be to just do your homework and stay up on what’s happening and to approach council with this because they are the ones who will ultimately be making the final decision,” said Anderson.
According to Rabel, it costs nearly $4 million in the first year to open a new firehall, which includes construction, equipment and staffing.
Weinberger said the AFD is in talks with developers to look at parcels of land for a new firehall location, but the timeline for a new hall could be anywhere from 16 to 24 months away.
Other alderman candidates who attended the meeting were Kelly Hegg and Fred Burley