Bright residents blast 'unacceptable' plan to close fire station
Ryan Flanagan, CTV Kitchener
Published Sunday, January 15, 2017 4:04PM EST
Residents of Bright will find out this week if a proposal to close their fire station will move ahead despite their vociferous objections.
The Bright station is one of four in Blandford-Blenheim Township, which is east of Woodstock and south of New Hamburg. The others are in Drumbo, Plattsville and Princeton.
Mayor Marion Wearn says that like many municipalities, Blandford-Blenheim’s future financial forecasts show only two paths forward: significant tax increases or significant cuts to currently provided services.
“The numbers just don’t add up going forward,” she says.
“It’s not going to be possible for us to maintain these services – so rather than not have the service at all … we want to find ways of doing it differently.”
All of the township’s departments will be reviewed in the search for “efficiencies,” Wearn says.
The fire service was the first to undergo that review, with a consultant recommending that the fire station in Bright be closed, and its volunteer firefighters urged to continue on through one of the other halls in the township.
Talk of closing the Bright station dates back more than 20 years.
A 1995 report found that the Bright and Plattsville stations covered “virtually the same” parts of the township, and suggested closing the Bright station.
That recommendation was never acted on, and the Plattsville station was actually moved in 2014 – but not far enough to make a significant difference in the geographical overlap with Bright.
The consultant’s report found that Bright’s firefighters are dispatched to about 25 emergencies a year, or eight per cent of the township’s fire calls.
That’s not only fewer calls than are seen by firefighters in Drumbo, Plattsville or Princeton, it’s lower than the 14 per cent of calls where the first response comes from firefighters based outside Blandford-Blenheim.
Bright also has the smallest volunteer firefighting force in the township – 12 people, compared to 16 or 18 at the other stations – and two of the oldest vehicles in the department’s fleet, including a tanker truck from 1989.
Closing the station, the consultant found, would save the township $1 million by eliminating the need to replace Bright’s fire trucks, and save them $18,000 a year in operating costs.
But for many people in Bright, the only numbers that matter are the one fire station their community currently has, and the zero fire stations it may have in the future.
Understanding those emotions, the township held a public meeting about the issue a few months ago. Barely anybody showed up.
A second meeting was scheduled for this past Wednesday in the hopes of drawing a bigger crowd. In that sense, they got what they were after.
With about 100 people in attendance – keep in mind that Blandford-Blenheim’s population is 7,700 – the fire hall was standing room only. Most of the standing room was taken up too.
More than a dozen people walked up to a microphone to give their thoughts on the idea of closing the fire hall – and they didn’t seem to be holding much back.
One woman called the township officials at the front of the room “disgusting” for giving consideration to closing the station.
Like many of those who spoke, the woman said her biggest concern was around longer response times for medical issues, which account for nearly two-thirds of all calls for Bright’s firefighters.
“Damned if I’m going to call 911 to get Plattsville to run to my house when I can call Donnie, when I can call Jessica, when I can call Leanne’s husband Bob,” she said, pointing out individual Bright firefighters in the crowd.
“They can run faster to my house than what Plattsville would be able to make it.”
Another speaker said that Bright firefighters had responded to fires at his farm twice in the 40 years he’d been living there.
“Both times, they were able to extinguish the blaze and save my house,” he said.
Noting that driving from the Plattsville fire station to his farm takes “more than double the time” as does driving from the Bright station, he said the outcome would have been different had Bright not had its own firefighters.
“If it had been Plattsville (responding), the house would have been gone. Maybe the barn too. That’s my livelihood,” he said.
“In an old frame farmhouse, it’s not minutes – it’s seconds.”
That theme was echoed by Bruce Arnott, who said that closing the Bright station would leave his farm at least 10 minutes away from the nearest responding firefighters.
“That is unacceptable,” he said.
Other speakers talked about the sight of fire trucks going up and down the street bringing the community together, and concerns that people might not want to move to Bright if it loses its fire station.
It was left to Wearn to press the financial argument.
“We’re just trying to prepare our township so that you don’t suffer,” she said.
Councillors will meet this coming Wednesday to determine the fate of the fire hall.
Coun. Bruce Banbury says he’ll be voting against any motion to close the station.
Following last week’s meeting, he told CTV News that he’d heard “all sorts of good points” made that night.
“It’s just putting peoples’ lives and health at risk,” he said.
“They don’t want response in 15 minutes, they want it immediately – as anybody would.”
One councillor has declared a conflict of interest on the file because he is part of Plattsville’s volunteer fire brigade.
That means that if one other member of the Blandford-Blenheim council votes with Banbury, the Bright fire station will remain open.
Banbury isn’t sure if that will happen – but he is sure that Bright residents, desperately wanting to save their hall, will be there in large numbers.
The meeting takes place at 4 p.m. in township council chambers in Drumbo.
With reporting by Marc Venema