Truck services

Fire service review shows below-standard response times in Cumberland County

Only four of the 19 fire departments serving the Municipality of Cumberland County meet both recommended response times and staffing standards for their demand areas, a situation that a Nova Scotia fire chief says , is not expected to improve unless more people step in to fight the fires.

A review of municipal fire services released to council last week found slower-than-suggested response times, an aging vehicle fleet and a lack of young recruits. It is asking for nearly $40 million to replace obsolete infrastructure and equipment.

“If we can’t get younger members here, there will be delays,” said Oxford Fire Chief Trueman Rushton, whose department is largely made up of firefighters who have already served more than 20 year.

“It’s going to be hard.”

Leicester, Truemanville, Wallace and Westchester were the only fire departments to meet both staffing and response time standards for their demand areas, according to the consultant’s report.

Standards set by nonprofits

Standard response times for volunteer fire departments are set by the National Fire Protection Association, an international non-profit organization dedicated to fire safety. Departments are encouraged, but not required, to meet the standards, which differ based on population and building density.

To meet the standard in rural demand areas, such as Wentworth, a minimum of six firefighters must respond within 14 minutes at least 80% of the time. In suburban demand areas, such as parts of Pugwash, 10 volunteers must respond within 10 minutes, 80% of the time. In urban demand areas, which part of Springhill falls under, the minimum requirement is 15 firefighters in nine minutes, 90% of the time.

The departments of Amherst, Oxford and Five Islands were included in the review as they are under contract to protect adjacent areas of the county. The review indicates that a self-help system should be formalized in writing.

Bill Ireland, director of emergency services for the County Municipality of Cumberland, said it’s not as simple as it looks on paper for all volunteer firefighters to meet the same response time standard .

“Cumberland County volunteer firefighters are typically called from their homes or jobs at the fire station and then travel a long distance to reach the site of an emergency,” Ireland said. “It’s not something that meets the standards well.”

Recruitment, retention a challenge

Almost half of Cumberland’s volunteer firefighters are over the age of 50.

Ireland said recruitment and retention of firefighters is more difficult now than in the past.

“It’s hard to find people who have the time and the ability and the desire to give back, especially in something that’s so challenging in firefighting where the standards are always rising and there are a lot of demands. training,” he said.

Fire stations and their equipment are also aging.

The review calls for nearly $40 million over 20 years to replace six fire stations, a number of obsolete vehicles and firefighting equipment. It is recommended that the Advocate, Joggins, Parrsboro, River Hebert, Wentworth and Westchester fire stations be replaced within the first 10 years.

“Our firefighting fleet is aging,” Rushton said. “Our oldest is a 1989 fire truck and it’s in pretty bad shape.”

Aging fire fleet

The municipality has a fire fleet of 92 vehicles. The average age of the vehicles is nearly 19 years. The oldest vehicle in service is a 54-year-old seasonal logging truck.

The National Fire Protection Association has set the maximum service age for frontline firefighting vehicles at 15 years, but there is a process to extend the service life to 25 years in low-incident areas like Cumberland .

“Maybe in the past the municipality didn’t have a solid plan in place to replace and maintain vehicles,” Ireland said. “So that means part of our fleet is nearing the end of its lifespan.”

Council has asked staff to review the report’s more than 200 recommendations and come up with an implementation plan later this summer.