On Monday afternoon, Airdrie's City Council approved the next steps in the process of Airdrie building its fourth fire station.
The motion was adopted unanimously to accept a presentation by the City's Fire Chief, Mike Pirie, which included an updated needs assessment and spatial plan for the Highland Park Fire Station and Training Centre for Northeast Airdrie. It is estimated that the Northeast Fire Station will be ready by November 18, 2026.
With this motion passed, staff was directed to proceed with the detailed design and construction of the Highland Park Fire Station and Training Training Center. With this approval, Fire Chief Pirie said that by December 1, the first step should be initiated with a project manager being established.
"Our architect is then contracted to build a schematic design. An important addition to this project is a Construction Manager at Risk. A Construction Manager on board before the detailed design has a very significant way of controlling costs, specifically change orders. The construction manager then works with the city and architect to complete the detailed design," Chief Pirie explained.
According to City documents, the need for a fourth fire station was identified in 2013 to, 'accommodate the city’s growth by providing emergency services in each quadrant of the city.'
Chief Pirie noted that in less than two years, Airdrie's Fire Department has responded to the City's Northeast quadrant 358 times.
"This only includes emergency response. No call responses, service calls or incidents require the use of apparatus such as rescue trucks and Busch trucks are included," he said.
In presenting an Airdrie Fire Department Incident and Time Response Map, Chief Pirie noted that yellow markers on the map were meeting city standards below the threshold but below the threshold of the building code.
"This is not what you want to see. In short, yellow is not good and red is something that we do not want to see outside of extenuating circumstances."
A secondary map illustrating the fourth fire station and its impact on response times is what the Fire Chief said would be a 'good news story', though he underlined that the newly completed 40th Avenue Overpass is also a part of that story.
However, the fourth fire station was also looked at through the lens of Airdrie's population growth and how a fourth fire station may sustain the growing city for the next 50 to 75 years.
"You would expect to see staffing increases along with the demands for service. As we look towards the training components, it is important to understand that we are not building just for today's immediate demands, but also for the coming years. It was very reasonable to expect training for 200 staff on a regular annual basis," Chief Pirie noted. "We have maximized all other avenues and existing space in the existing stations."
It was also underlined during the presentation that having a high-quality training facility available in the city is crucial.
"Safety is a key element of this facility. It is entirely true that our staff need high-quality initial training and then what many municipalities have missed or are moving to, is continuing education. That accessibility facility allows us to introduce critical thinking," Chief Pirie said. "We place people in positions where things don't work so that they can develop problem-solving skills. This is what separates a school-based approach from a real problem-solving approach and community. I believe heavily in community service. It is the heart of what we do."
However, the question of cost is not yet known. Chief Pirie stressed that putting a hard number on a project so early would not be prudent.
"There are risks with these projects. There are some known risks that we must highlight the cost, construction, labor, results of surveys and engineering are all unknowns. These are issues on all building projects. Locking into a hard budget early on is not realistic. The true costs are not known until the design and building need to occur. The Construction Manager at Risk helps to mitigate some of these timelines."
While the budget for the city's fourth fire station is unknown, Councillor Ron Chapman said that the building of a fourth fire station is a need.
City documents stated that in 2018, S2 Architecture presented the results of a needs assessment and developmental spatial plan which recommended the construction of a combined fire hall, training center and merged Emergency Communications Center (ECC).
"This option meets all of the city’s operational requirements, maximizes the site use, leverages the efficiencies of a multi-purpose space and eliminates the need for future renovations which risk increased costs and the challenges of renovating a functioning fire hall."
In 2021, the city's fire department also engaged Behr Integrated Solutions to help in the development of a business case to support options for funding and approval for the development and construction of a fourth fire station. However, due to the length of time between the original S2 study, the organization was solicited again to provide an update in 2023.
"In addition to embedding a multi-functional Training Centre and shared spaces between the AFD and training programs, a key benefit of the proposed project is that it has the potential to become a multi-service facility and leverage shared programmatic elements between the AFD, municipal enforcement, public works and the City of Airdrie vehicle training due to the full extent of the Training Centre and exterior training programming," S2 stated in their 2023 report, which was also available to city council.
The estimated space of the fourth fire station would total 32,388 square feet.
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