City of Burnaby launches first thorough review of fire department in 17 years

Seventeen years after it last took a thorough look at the needs of its fire department, the City of Burnaby is hiring a consultant to conduct a “comprehensive” assessment.  

“The primary objective of the BFD’s Needs Assessment is to evaluate the current service profile, assets, human and capital resources against current and future service demand with a focus on risk assessment,” states a request for proposal put out by the city last month.

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The study will help the city set priorities and allocate resources for the coming five-to-10 years, according to the document.

New challenges

The RFP notes fire services and emergency response requirements are “evolving quickly” with the transformation of the city from a suburb into a “dynamic urban city.”

The consultant will look into how changes have impacted the demand on fire department services.

Some specific emerging issues the consultant has been directed to probe are “petrochemical industry challenges,” such as fires and pipeline leaks; fires and other emergencies in the city’s ballooning number of highrises; a trend in mass timber construction, like a 40-storey structure currently being proposed for Vancouver’s Broadway corridor; the (literally) explosive potential of hydrogen fuel cells; and the protection of stock in giant big-box warehouses.

Included in the project will be a thorough assessment of the fire department’s current level of service, including facilities and their locations.

But the RFP is clear an assessment of “the physical condition of existing facilities and equipment” will not be included.

“We have that through our internal asset management plan,” public safety director Dave Critchley told the NOW.

Decisions deferred

That means the condition of facilities like the 63-year-old Duthie Avenue fire hall, which was listed for replacement in the city’s five-year financial plan for about 10 years, won’t be looked at as part of the study.

(Line items earmarking $9.6 million between 2019 and 2021 to replace the hall have disappeared from the city’s five-year financial plan since last year – replaced by a plan to spend $400,000 this year on a feasibility study for a fire hall in north east Burnaby.)

When asked what the plan is for the one-engine Duthie station, which was built in 1956 for $26,117, Critchley said it would be “premature” to comment.

He said the needs assessment was required to help the city make “an informed decision” about the hall and other fire department facilities.

“You don’t want to be putting money into a facility that perhaps doesn’t meet your operational needs location-wise or the service that it provides,” Critchley said.

When asked why the city hadn’t taken a comprehensive look at the operational needs of the fire service for 17 years, Critchley said, “I guess it would depend on your definition of comprehensive. There have been other studies done.”

Long time coming

The last time the city took a big-picture look at the needs of the fire department, though, was in a “Fire Department Future Needs Study” in 2002.

That study put forward five recommendations, including future upgrades at Duthie, which the report called “marginally adequate for current operations” and in need of “significant upgrading and additional space in the future.”

The study also recommended the city look into adding new halls atop Burnaby Mountain and in the Big Bend area.

Seven years later, then-fire Chief Bob Cook updated then-Mayor Derek Corrigan and council on the implementation of some recommendations in the 2002 report.

At that time, Cook recommended updating the 2002 study to establish “medium and longer term priorities” in relation to the Duthie hall as well as the new halls proposed for Burnaby Mountain and the Big Bend area.

The mayor and council, however, sent Cook’s 2010 report back to committee – from whence it never returned.

The new assessment will now give the city an updated look at the overall needs of the department nearly a decade later.

The deadline for the completion of the study is late November, according to the RFP.

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