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What's holding up Burnaby Mountain fire hall project?

City says it was waiting for SFU to pick possible site; university says it wasn't asked till last month
UniverCity fire
Burnaby firefighters respond to a call in the UniverCity community on Burnaby Mountain in 2015. A fire department review has found the department's response to the top of the mountain is "inadequate" and the area needs its own fire hall.

SFU and the City of Burnaby are sending out conflicting messages about what has held up the building of a much-needed fire hall on top of Burnaby Mountain.

External reports have identified a need for a fire station atop the mountain since at least 2002.

A comprehensive review of the Burnaby Fire Department released last April listed it under “immediate needs.”

“Studies have been identifying Burnaby Mountain as a high-risk area for the department for many years,” stated the report. “It has varied and changing risks, including institutional, industrial, multi-family residential and wildland interface … Proximity is a major concern and access is limited.”

The external consultant hired to conduct the review found the fire department is “currently unable to meet any of the industry standard response targets (low, moderate, high or extreme risk) on the mountain” and a fire station would “dramatically” improve the situation.

UniverCity resident Paul Salandini, who first brought up the issue with the city in May 2018, said he felt vindicated by the report but also frustrated it identified needs the city has known about for years.

“I am not sure if the city is waiting for a massive fire to happen up here at SFU and people to get hurt before they finally get their heads out of the sand,” Salandini wrote in a letter to the NOW last April after the report’s release.

After the review, the city earmarked $300,000 in 2020 for design and construction of an SFU fire station, and the latest plan, the city’s 2021-2025 provisional financial plan, includes $26 million over the next three years for the project.

But a feasibility study has yet to get off the ground.

Plans to initiate such a study have shown up in updates on major capital projects to the city’s financial management committee since last June.

Last month, the committee asked when the feasibility study might be finished, and Ed Kozak, the city’s director of planning and building, said they were waiting for SFU to identify a site so the study can begin, according to minutes from the meeting.

The estimated completion date for the new fire station had been 2023, but that has been pushed back to 2024.

This week, Kozak told the NOW he was hopeful a site will be chosen “in the near future.”

“The delay has been a result of site selection with the university,” Kozak wrote in an email Monday.

But SFU’s chief facilities officer, Larry Waddell, said the university hadn’t gotten any request from the city to help identify a possible location for the fire station until Feb. 4 – nearly eight months after the new fire hall first started appearing in major capital projects updates.

“This was the first time that SFU has been asked to identify site options,” Waddell wrote. 

The good news for those waiting for a new fire hall on the mountain is that SFU sent the city site options for the project Monday, according to Waddell, presumably opening the door for the launch of the feasibility study.

In March, Kozak told the financial management committee he would have a more detailed report on the city’s major capital projects in May.

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor
Email cnaylor@burnabynow.com