A little over 10 years since it opened, Fire Station No. 6 could be considered for closure at a time when the City of Calgary is looking to open another station in the city’s northern edge.
A few councillors and the Calgary Firefighters Association say administration is making the proposal as a cost-cutting measure amid an economic downturn.
The firehall is in the Eau Claire neighbourhood, and houses aerial apparatus to conduct tower rescues, and is the home base for water rescue in the nearby Bow River.
A new firehall has yet to open to serve the new community of Livingston.
“It makes no sense to me to close a brand new fire hall that is operating in our downtown core to open a fire hall that has not been opened yet,” said Ward 8 Councillor Evan Woolley.
Station 6, also known as the Louise Station, borders Woolley’s area as well as Councillor Druh Farrell’s Ward 7.
Farrell says the question of closing a downtown firehall presents more concerns about the pace of growth and development — amid strategies to encourage residents and businesses in the inner city.
“When you need to spread less butter over more bread it means the existing city receives less services,” she said.
Ward 6 Councillor Jyoti Gondek echoes the sentiment.
“At a time when we’re trying to densify the core and reinvigorate Eau Claire, is this a future focused decision?” she wrote in a statement to CTV News.
Farrell says city administration has been tasked by council to find $24 million in savings across city services.
For representatives of the Calgary Firefighter Association (CFA), the closure could cost both jobs and endanger the lives of the residents the firehall serves.
“Seconds matter when it comes to responding to emergencies. We need the tools to respond to Calgarians emergencies,” said Matt Osborne, CFA spokesperson.
“As the city is getting bigger and bigger and the fire department budget is getting smaller and smaller, we are at the breaking point.”
Osborne says the budget for the Calgary Fire Department has shrunk by $30 million since 2015.
He adds that the department is not opposed to further development, so long as there are no cuts to existing fire halls.
Calgary’s recommended response time for fire crews to arrive on scene after dispatch is seven minutes.
Osborne argues that while neighbouring Stations 1 and 2 appear to overlap the seven-minute-radius, he says fighting a fire several storeys up adds more time to the response, hence densely spaced fire halls often found in urban centres.
Gondek, who represents an area with new communities plus a few more currently being pitched by developers, says the City’s current model for growth is flawed — specifically the off-site levy bylaw.
“Front-ending capital for leading infrastructure puts the city in a position of risk. That has to be one of the first things to change.”
She then added, “Pulling resources from one geographic area to place them in another, when both require that particular service, is a ridiculous way to run an effective city. The positioning of this decision is intentionally political and I will not take part in poaching a critical service from an area we are actively trying to grow.”
A group of home developers are seeking the city’s approval to build 11 new communities on the outer edges of Calgary.
Farrell adds that council already approved 14 new communities in 2018 — against expert recommendations to only approve eight based on lower market demand — and says that approval flooded the Calgary market with a near-record total of 41 new and developing communities.
Council has already committed almost $500 million in funding to new community growth until 2022. It has also asked for a tax freeze in 2021, but there are further concerns that won’t be possible.
With files from CTV News Calgary's Mark Villani and Jordan Kanygin.