Nanoose Bay firefighters ready for referendum

Nanoose Bay Fire chief Doug Penny shows how congested the current fire hall is prior to a       referendum next week voting to approve  borrowing for a new and more functional hall.  - Lissa Alexander photo
Nanoose Bay Fire chief Doug Penny shows how congested the current fire hall is prior to a referendum next week voting to approve borrowing for a new and more functional hall.
— image credit: Lissa Alexander photo

An open house at the Nanoose Bay Fire Hall this weekend is being held to show residents what they are currently counting on in the event of an emergency and why officials have concluded a new one is needed. 

A referendum will be held on Saturday, March 26, to ask electors if they are in favour of borrowing $3.2 million to tear down the current fire hall and construct a new one.

“I think it’s important that [the public] know[s] and understand[s] what they’re voting for,” said Neil Watson, director with the Nanoose Fire Protection Society. “With that information they will make the right decision.” 

The current fire hall began construction in 1972, and although an addition in 1991 included a bit of a seismic upgrade, the hall doesn’t meet current standards and would likely crumble if a large earthquake were to strike.

Back in 1972 and 1973 the hall was constructed with cement blocks, considered one of the weaker methods of building because it doesn’t have any sway. This worries Watson because, not only would millions of dollars worth of equipment be damaged in a large earthquake, but more importantly the firefighters’ safety would also be compromised. 

“We have to make sure the firefighters and the facilities they function in work and are safe,” he said. “And in theory, in the event of a serious problem, they’ve got the ability to at least  get out of the building, because the way it stands today, if we had the big one quite frankly those trucks wouldn’t leave the building.”

Another concern is the functionality of the building, said Nancy Avery, General Manager of Finance and Information Services at the RDN. Although the building is sound, it is old, she said, along with everything in it. As general operations of the fire department has changed over the years, including bigger equipment, the amount of space the firefighters have to work in has decreased.

“So it’s a combination of here we have an old building, here we have a seismic concern ... just add it all together,” she said.

Doug Penny has been the fire chief at the hall for 25 years. He agreed the amount of congestion has definitely increased over the years, posing a safety concern for his team who are often trying to get dressed within arms reach of  moving vehicles.

“It’s something you’ve got to be on your toes all the time,” he said. “Even at two in the morning when you’re still half asleep.”

Being in close proximity to fumes from the vehicles is also a concern to the firefighters as well as space to decontaminate and clean themselves following an emergency.

And the firefighters are not just fighting fires, said Watson. The role the volunteers play today is fundamentally different than it was even five years ago, he said, where today these firefighters are first responders, attending calls like risk to life, shortness of breath, chest pains and trauma.

“Currently we take close to 300 calls a year and 51 per cent of that is medical first responder,” said Penny.

Not to mention all the motor vehicle accidents and spills the volunteers attend.

 If the referendum next week were to be unsuccessful, Avery said, the RDN would go back to the drawing board and try to bring down costs.

However it is a good design at a good price, she said.

Watson agreed.

“Knowing the process we’ve gone through I think in general terms this is probably as good as its going to get for the tax payer,” he said.

Property taxes for local residents would be increased by an estimated $13.70 a year based on $100,000 of property value if the hall were approved.

Director of area E (Nanoose Bay) George Holme agreed the cost was worth the new building.

 “What’s a life worth?” he asked.

The open house at the Nanoose Bay Fire Hall happens from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. this Saturday, March 19. Hot dogs will be available.

For more information about the referendum and the proposed new hall visit


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