Question re: Klondike Valley fire hall - November 7, 2014

Hansard November 7, 2013

Mr. Silver:   I have a question about the Dawson City airport and the Klondike Valley fire hall. Recent renovations to the fire hall have turned it into more of a water distribution centre than a fire station.

A project to drill a well was delayed several times and missed many completion dates. The renovations caused considerable disruptions to the activities of the volunteer fire department. Training drills were cancelled, for example, and equipment had to be moved off-site because of the disturbance. Unfortunately, the impact goes beyond a temporary inconvenience. Firefighters I’ve spoken to believe the facility will now need to be expanded if it is ever to be an effectively operating fire station once again. An alternative — favoured by many — is to relocate the station to the airport, as this would allow for a faster response to incidents there.

Is expanding the existing fire hall or moving it to the airport something that this government is considering?

Hon. Mr. Cathers:      In fact what I would point out is that there have been significant investments by this government in many areas within our fire services including, first of all, updating the fleet of fire equipment. It was aged when we took office and we have ensured that our rural volunteer fire departments have much more modern equipment and have significantly increased that investment in fire trucks, as well as equipment, such as turnout gear. As well, we have made investments in other areas related to that, including a significant increase to the annual budget for the Fire Marshal’s Office.

I was up this fall in Dawson and met with the fire chief of the Klondike Valley Fire Department. We recognize that there were some issues during a period when a contractor was putting the water treatment facility in the fire hall, but that work has been completed. If there are additional issues that need to be addressed, we will work on them through the chief of the fire hall as well as the Fire Marshal’s Office. A move to the airport is not being considered.

Mr. Silver:   I’m sure that the Klondike Valley Fire Department appreciates the upgrades, but they need places to store these upgrades as well.

The decision by this government to turn the fire hall into a water treatment building has left firefighters with many questions about the future of that hall. For example, who will look after the new water facilities? This is not something that volunteers signed up for and it’s not something that they are qualified for either. Firefighters have also told me that there is very, very little room left now for equipment or for training at the facility because of the changes that have been made.

Why did the government make these changes with no consideration of the impact on the fire hall, and how does it plan to fix the problems that they have created there?

Hon. Mr. Cathers:      Mr. Speaker, the upgrade to water — my understanding is that many of the investments that were made in recent years primarily through Building Canada deal with issues around water quality and wanting to ensure — especially in cases where people were already getting water for personal use from facilities, which to my understanding included the Klondike Valley fire hall.

The treatment of that water is meeting a standard that reflects the changes to the Canadian drinking water guidelines, in many cases related to the arsenic standard. That was the reason behind the investment, to the best of my understanding. It is intended to improve the water service for people within the Rock Creek area. I recognize that there were some issues where the contractor was putting in equipment, but the work has been completed.

Certainly if there are pressures on the space requirements at the fire hall, as with any of our other fire hall facilities, we will give consideration to that and we will not rule out the possibility of considering renovations or additional storage space if it becomes evident that those are necessary. But again I will reiterate: we’re not contemplating moving it to the airport and the fire hall. From my viewing of it and what I understood from the fire chief is that it in fact is a very functional facility that had some space pressures as a result of the work that was being done.

Mr. Silver:   It sounds like we have had two very different conversations with the fire crew there. Moving the facility to the airport — especially with the increased traffic that is experienced because of Holland America’s announcement last year — it makes a lot of sense. I would urge the minister to consider that option. It is one of the few improvements that need to be made to the airport in order to accommodate more traffic flying in from Alaska with Air North and with Holland America.

I have spoken to people at the airport itself and a number of individuals from the tourism industry and they have all expressed reservations about the state of readiness for these additional flights. There have been questions raised about everything from parking spaces for the jets to whether the airport is properly set up to allow passengers to clear United States customs, as well as the ability to manage the increased fire and emergency concerns. I understand representatives from Highways and Public Works visited the airport this summer in the beginning of their preparations for next year’s increases.

What steps has the government undertaken to ensure that these flights will proceed next summer?

Hon. Mr. Cathers:      First of all, I would remind the member that work that has been done and investments in the Dawson airport are an important part of actually accommodating those flights in the first place. I would also note to the member that I understand that, from what he’s relaying, he’s spoken to some members of the fire department and understand there may be various opinions, including within the fire department, about possible solutions, but we have what it is a very functional fire hall.

There were during periods of construction of the water facility some pressures and they had temporary interference with their training room. I have been in the fire hall. While it certainly is an area where there’s not a lot of extra space, it is also a functional space. We will of course consider whether there need to be adjustments, renovations or storage additions, but there is a significant cost in constructing a fire hall and we do have one that is very functional right now.

In fact, I would remind the member that Wildland Fire Management has a station right at the airport. The Klondike Valley fire hall is quite close to the airport and it’s also covered by the City of Dawson municipal fire department under a mutual aid agreement, so there is quite good coverage of the airport facility within the City of Dawson. The area just outside, of course, is well served by the Klondike Valley Fire Department.