On October 15, City of Powell River voters in the municipal election will have the opportunity to cast ballots in an assent vote (referendum) on building a new fire hall/emergency services facility.
According to Powell River Fire Rescue fire chief Terry Peters, the existing fire hall on Courtenay Street in Westview was built in 1959, before the implementation of many different safety codes and standards.
“These standards have changed significantly since 1959, specifically related to post-disaster buildings,” explains Peters.
In 2018, a structural assessment of the building was completed. It was determined that it was not feasible to upgrade the existing facility to meet post-disaster standards.
“Post-disaster standards prevent structural collapse during major earthquakes, protecting human life, and for a fire hall, it is also intended to protect the public in the event of the disaster,” he adds. “Powell River is in a high hazard zone for earthquakes. If a medium or major event were to happen in our community, the existing building is unlikely to remain intact, jeopardizing the lifesaving response our department provides to this community.”
In addition to protecting response capabilities, the existing fire hall lacks the space and facilities to meet current standards for protecting first responders against carcinogens and chemical hazards, says Peters.
“Firefighting is an inherently dangerous job, with many job-related risks for chronic illnesses,” he adds. “Exposure to chemicals and contaminants is unavoidable when firefighting, thus specialized gear and equipment are utilized to protect our firefighters. However, once a firefighter returns to the station, there is a potential to spread these contaminants and cause secondary exposures.
“In modern fire stations there are defined hot and cold zones designated to keep cancer-causing agents away from the operational workspaces.”
City chief financial officer Mallory Denniston says property owners within the area serviced by Powell River Fire Rescue would pay for the new fire hall annually through property taxes.
“A property owner with a home valued at the average 2022 assessment of $535,928 would pay approximately an additional $82 annually in property taxes for 20 years towards the loan,” adds Denniston. “This is a total of $1,640 spread out over 20 years.”
This cost estimate is based on a $7.5 million, 20-year loan from the Municipal Finance Authority of BC (MFA) at an estimated interest rate of 4.39 per cent, which is its current long-term borrowing rate. The interest rate is fixed on a 20-year MFA loan and is renewed after the initial 10 years, then every five years thereafter until maturity, according to the CFO.
“This investment would ensure the Powell River Fire Rescue team would have the equipment and building available to help you after an earthquake or other disaster,” explains Denniston. “If a new fire hall is not built, an earthquake could cripple the functioning of the current fire hall in seconds, destroying millions of dollars in vehicles and equipment. A new fire hall would be more resilient in an earthquake, resulting in much lower equipment and building replacement costs.”
Peters says public support for the funding will significantly increase the city’s chances to access grant opportunities that have just become available.
The assent voting question will read:
Are you in favour of the City of Powell River adopting fire hall/emergency services facility loan authorization bylaw 2695, 2022, to authorize borrowing of a sum not to exceed $7.5 million, over a maximum of 20 years, in order to finance the construction of a new fire hall/emergency services facility at the city’s public works yard, located at 7160 Duncan Street?
More information is available at powellriverfirehall.ca.