Town of Strathmore council debated on Nov. 18, whether a new study was needed to meet required 10-minute callouts for fire protection and if building code enforcements should be adapted to meet provincial safety codes for new growth nodes in Strathmore.
Administration was asked to research other towns dealing with the housing/fire safety requirements and 10-minute response times for local fire crews.
They looked at eight communities, Cochrane, Lacombe, Sylvan Lake, Canmore, High River, Camrose, Beaumont and Chestermere, all who had fulltime and volunteer fire personnel and whether they met the response times of 10 minutes. Information indicated four communities were not able to meet the 10-minute callout all the time, two met the requirement some of the time and two met the requirement all of the time.
Deputy CAO Linda Nelson said the the safety codes officer contacted Alberta Municipal Affairs to discover whether there were variances within the province, and he stated he got no responses that communities weren't adhering to the building codes; however, they (Municipal Affairs) do not track those statistics.
"They said they would not expect any community to admit they were not compliant," summarized Nelson. "They get a lot of questions regarding this and the fire departments' ability to meet 10-minute response in their areas. Their response was that this is a law and it is not an option for a community to circumvent."
She said many communities were enforcing the requirements through their building codes.
Building code rules established in the late '70's and early '80s, when commercial and residential developments were built on larger lots and with less density, were changed when the move to smaller lot sizes and the use of lighter weight construction materials and petroleum-based goods within the buildings increased fire risks.
Strathmore Safety Code/Development Officer Harry Salm said buildings are insurable in towns with structures in legal distance to fire hydrants and within 13 km of a fire hall. If that isn't possible, internal fire sprinkler systems can be installed. The average cost per dwelling for the sprinkler system is about three to four dollars a square foot. If there are water supply concerns and if the town supply cannot support the sprinkler system, bigger input lines would be needed or a water holding tank and pump are needed in the house. This would increase the building cost by about $5,000-$6,000 per unit. There are some cheaper building enhancements such as drywall application used inside and out instead of OSB board, window and vent placement measures and alternate exterior applications such as aluminum or stucco which could be fire deterrents.
The option of opening another fire hall closer to new areas means a sizeable financial, equipment and manpower investment that would require a tax burden on developers and homeowners. However, the town has currently agreed to hire two additional firefighting staff in the near future.
Councillor Denise Pederson requested an additional fire services study, over and above the previously submitted Behr report and Strathmore fire department report. She requested a study focus on the implementation and interpretation of the 10-minute response rule, with a price not exceeding $50,000 taken from the financial stabilization fund, with information delivered within 90 days. She said this study could also enforce the safety officer's position in dealing with developers and the public reinforcing his mandate to relay and enforce governed building codes.
"We need something better than we currently have," said Pederson. "It could be used as a stepping stone to ensure fire safety a decade ahead."
"This is going to ensure we get the most accurate information and protect lives and safety of people, but we want to be sure it doesn't cripple the economy of this town," said Councillor Pat Fule. "We have no choice but to follow these laws. If these response times can't be met, we have no choice but to adhere to what the Alberta government has passed down to us. I feel bothered by the fact that we are in controversy on this when it has been passed down to us. I am bothered by the fact that Mr. Salm has had to deal with controversy on this."
Councillor Rocky Blokland and Councillor Bob Sobol disagreed that a new study was necessary.
"I will not be supporting this motion. It is an endeavour to postpone the inevitable, which is the fact that we can't respond," said Sobol. "It is very clear based on three years of statistics from the fire department that with or without two additional firemen they will not be able to make a 10-minute response time. Put yourself in the position of a firefighter sleeping in his bed at 4 a.m., understanding this (10-minute response) is not going to happen.
"Living in this community for the last 12 years, I am very satisfied with the service our firefighters provide and feel just as safe as I did 12 years ago. It seems we are concerned about the building industry. I think they are a group that is prepared to change and adapt to whatever needs to be done. To cover this with another study at the cost $50,000, which is going to give us the same information that we have, is only a waste of money."
Council passed the motion for a new study with Blokland and Sobol against. Councillor Brad Walls was absent with regrets from the Nov. 18 meeting.