By Trevor Busch
While contrarian opinions have been quick to arise, Chief Steve Munshaw of the Taber Fire Department defended town council’s recent decision on a new fire hall location while celebrating the potential to reduce department response times by an estimated five minutes.
Following closed session discussion on Aug. 20, council directed administration to move forward with the purchase of three properties including Taber Church of Christ-owned property and two residences — 5303 50th Street, 5219 50th Street, and 5215 50th Street.
“The location at 50th Street and 52nd Avenue is one of the nice components,” said Munshaw. “It’s an arterial road within the community, it’s one of two main primary roads. The other thing is its geographically centered to the actual community itself, for future expansion both north and south, which will allow the community to give multiple directions that can have expansion.”
During the closed session (in camera) portion of a public meeting, members of the general public, including the media, are barred from witnessing or participating in the proceedings or discussion, although all subsequent resolutions must be made in open session.
Munshaw declined to comment on any details of the closed session discussions about the project held previously by town council during various meetings throughout the spring and summer of 2018. Despite public scrutiny, with the exception of an open house held in February 2018, recent council discussion of the issue has been conducted almost exclusively behind closed doors.
“It’s very difficult to communicate about in camera. As you know, I’m only allowed to talk about the motions that come out of in camera.”
Conversations regarding the potential relocation of the emergency services building in Taber have been ongoing since 2009. Following closed session discussion in July 2017 town council had voted unanimously to set aside $1.5 million for a new fire hall building from the William Ferguson estate, with the fire hall to be dedicated and named after William Ferguson.
No dollar figures or property values were included in the Aug. 20 resolution, but council also instructed administration to investigate building prices through a request for purchase.
“We don’t have any of that yet, because the town allowed us to go to an RFP (request for proposals), and that will come back to council in open session on Oct. 9 so council will be able to make a decision,” said Munshaw. “We don’t even have the RFPs in yet, they don’t close until Sept. 27.”
The location selected by council was based on several factors, mainly involving closer proximity to the town’s center.
“All I can tell you is that council viewed 14 different locations, and this was the one that was chosen for multiple reasons,” said Munshaw. “And those reasons, all I can tell you is they’re main arterial roads — 50th Street and 50th Avenue are the arterial roads for the entire community — and the geographic centre of the community is another very valid point for future growth within the organization.”
Several campaigns organized by citizens opposed to development of a new fire hall have made the rounds in the community, most recently a petition circulated by Forrest Lester in early spring 2018 which gathered 958 signatures and was presented to council on April 9. Lester’s petition was later deemed insufficient under the Municipal Government Act for failing to provide necessary information established under Sec. 225 of the MGA.
“What I’ve received — I’ve both heard concerns, and positive feedback — from both people of the community,” said Munshaw. “We held a meeting on Monday (Sept. 17) for the residents that are directly neighbours to the piece of property, and there were both people for the location, and very pro in the desire for it to be there, and there were people that had concerns about this location, and questions about it being there.”
Another petition organized earlier by residents in proximity to one of the town’s favoured locations — town-owned property adjacent to Dr. Hamman and St. Pat’s schools — had also been presented to town council. Prior to this, a delegation representing residents from Signature Point had issued a statement to town council signed by residents opposing a potential fire hall location in the vicinity of the Taber Curling Club.
“Currently the Town of Taber does not maintain a 10-minute response time within the entire town of Taber. This will — and has been able to be confirmed through multiple studies — that a central location will allow all residents of the town of Taber to achieve a 10-minute, standardized response,” said Munshaw. “Right now our average response is 14 minutes and 30 seconds, which you’re able to see through all of our documentation. We’re now able — through studies — to see that we’re down to nine minutes 30 seconds. Five minutes in response savings to the community, when seconds count — and we’re talking minutes — this is a very positive thing for people in need that have an emergency.”
Munshaw dispelled one rumour about the location, indicating that the Taber Church of Christ will not be removed from its present lot, only that some subdivided property owned by the church will be changing hands.
“The church is not being moved. The church property — the church has agreed to subdivide their land, because their land makes a big swoop to the south, and is the backyards to all those other properties south of the church. So they’ve agreed to subdivide their church and make an east-west line. The church is not being purchased, just land from the church is being purchased. The town owns the land right beside that, and then the two residential properties right south, there is a conditional offer pending.”
The strongest argument for relocating the present fire hall, according to Munshaw, pivots on the department meeting provincial High Intensity Residential Fire (HIRF) regulations and a 10-minute response time that he argues will allow for future town expansion and growth.
“I think we really hit that strongly with that 10-minute response time. By having a central location, the volunteers responding from their work or their homes to a location within the community, if we can reduce the response time of these people to get to a central location, that’s going to also increase response out to a further distance in more of a safe manner, and a larger radius. When we’re able to reduce the response time by five minutes, that’s a substantial savings in time. Not only will the Town of Taber Fire Department be responding from that location, but so will AHS ambulance.”
Design for the structure has yet to be determined, but Munshaw suggested it will be based on cost-effectiveness and various aesthetic qualities.
Council’s Aug. 20 resolution did not include any specific dates or a timeline for when it intends to break ground on the new facility or host an open house for the public, but Munshaw indicated this was likely to be decided on Oct. 9.
“Council has motions to make, and we will work from those motions, but I see positives in many ways — there’s challenges, too — but if we can work together we can come to a common conclusion for how we can work as a cohesive unit.”