New Saanich fire station responds to growing service demands

New Saanich fire station responds to growing service demands
Sidney Coles, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Saanich Mayor Murdock, Roger Graham, President of the Royal Oak Community Association and Fire Chief Burgess.

Fire Station #2 has outgrown its current footprint and no longer meets the needs of a rapidly growing community.

The original Saanich Fire department was established in 1919. It was a one man, one truck and one hose affair. Up until then, the City of Victoria managed service to the wholly rural area. That historically rural area is now the most populous municipality in the Capital Region District.

The fire station is growing with it.

The new fire station was identified as a priority by Saanich council in 2018. Recent development to the east and west of the district has created more service demand than in the previous 50 years. In order to meet that demand, Saanich council was told by consultants that it would have to expand its current #2 facilities, increase the number of apparatus vehicles and its fire crews.

The footprint of the existing station, built in 1978, was far too small to accommodate these recommendations and so Fire Station #2 is getting a new home.

Since Nov. 6, that station at 4595 Elk Lake Dr. has been closed to the public. Shovels were in the ground on Thursday at a ceremony marking the District of Saanich Fire Station #2 modernization project. Attendees at the event included Saanich mayor Dean Murdock, Saanich Fire Chief Michael Burgess, Saanich CAO Brent Reems, Minister Lana Popham, and Roger Graham, President of the Royal Oak Community Association.

Retiring chief emotional over new station

Fire Chief Burgess, who will retire soon after 37 years in the service, told Capital Daily “It’s emotional in many respects,” “It’s a significant milestone in my career” he said, “after having worked as a firefighter out of this station for many years. Seeing the commitment that the District, through the mayor and council, have put into public safety and investing in their first responders in police and fire, it’s exciting. I am super pleased to see this project come to fruition.”

At 2,508 square metres, the new facility will be nearly seven times the size of the original (355 square metres). It will be located adjacent to the existing building and will accommodate up to 10 firefighters and eight vehicles, nearly tripling the capacity of the old station.

The new site, recently consolidated from three District of Saanich properties, will also include the district’s fire training centre. The station will be built to high energy performance standards (net zero carbon building, LEED Gold and Energy Step Code level 2) and will be constructed of mass timber. These high standards will help Saanich achieve its environmental and climate commitments to a 80% reduction in GHG emissions from 2007 levels and in becoming a 100% renewable energy corporation and community by 2050.

Budget doubles during half-decade of planning

Those environmental ambitions and sustainability standards come with a hefty price tag.

The budget for the station has nearly doubled from its original price tag of $26.6 million that was initially forwarded in its 2018 business case and approved by Saanich council in May of 2019.

Delays, design changes, and soaring costs of construction materials have pushed that budget to $44.6 million. To address the cost gap, Saanich will use $6 million of the $14.6-million Growing Communities Fund grant it received from the province, and add funds from its own reserves plus other borrowing options.

In his remarks at the ceremony, Mayor Murdock recognised the enhanced capabilities the new station will provide. “This redevelopment project signifies our dedication to investing in the infrastructure that supports our first responders who bravely put their lives on the line day in and day out. The enhancement and modernization of the fire station will equip our firefighters with the resources to respond swiftly and effectively to emergencies, ensure the continued safety and wellbeing of the people of Saanich.”

The new station will be operational by spring of 2025.

Sidney Coles, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

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