Tight squeeze: New trucks too big for aging Oak Bay fire hall

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The District of Oak Bay is adding two new fire trucks to its fleet as it plans to build a new public safety building, replacing the nearly 100-year-old fire hall.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Fire Chief Frank Macdonald.

The historic Oak Bay Fire Hall that has stood since 1938 can tightly squeeze five vehicles inside its bays but after the department purchased a 105-foot ladder truck and new engine truck to replace its decades-old counterparts, the district had to look elsewhere for storage.

“We have approval for a temporary building for the new fire truck,” said Mayor Kevin Murdoch.

As part of the district’s five-year financial plan, council approved a temporary apparatus bay that would house the new ladder truck, which will be stationed in the main parking lot.

Permanently, in the future, the district plans to build a public safety building that would house both the fire and police departments.

“We need to have some post-seismic facility in the district so that should a major seismic event happen, our fire, police and emergency services have a safe place to call home,” said Murdoch.

The building is still in its early planning stages which will still need to go through council and public consultation. The mayor says the long-term plans for the heritage fire hall are still unclear.

“We’re likely to keep it. We’re likely to see some other beneficial use for the community but we don’t know what that is yet,” said Murdoch.

The current 68-foot ladder truck was originally designed to hold a 75-foot ladder but had to be cut down to make space inside the fire hall.

“Ultimately, it’s timed out,” said Macdonald.

At the cost of $3.35 million, the replacement vehicles serve modern community needs.

“The new truck we’re getting is a 105-foot ladder, so obviously  it’s got quite a bit more reach. It’s quite beneficial when we’re working with our mutual aid partners like the District of Saanich, Esquimalt Fire Department, or City of Victoria,” said Macdonald.

Currently, when fire personnel have to extinguish a car fire, a pail with foam has to be connected to be added to the water within the truck, then after several minutes it is ready to be shot out of a hose.

The new engine truck would have a pre-pump foam system which can be prepared in house before responding to a call.

“We’d engage the pump and then push two, literally that push two buttons, and they’d be able to have foam,” said Macdonald.

When asked about the price tag for the new vehicles, the chief said it was necessary in order to meet industry standards.

“Fire underwriters really set the standard for the lifespan of our trucks. Typically it’s 20 years, so it’s 15 years on the frontline capacity and an additional five years in the reserve,” Macdonald said.

Both vehicles have reached the lifespan of service and the chief adds that the new vehicles are similar to ones already used by neighbouring fire departments.

The purchase also reduces the cost of insurance over time.

“If we don’t have equipment that meets the fire underwriter’s requirements then you can expect to see your household insurance or your commercial insurance be more expensive,” said Macdonald.

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