By: Saije Rusimovici, Staff Writer
As climate change fuels the wildfires that are spreading rapidly across the Lower Mainland, residents have been increasingly calling for proper preparedness and to address these risks in our communities. Burnaby Fire Department chief, Chris Bowcock, warns that heat waves could potentially cause grass fires near the Trans Mountain tank farm on Lhuḵw’lhuḵw’áyten (Burnaby Mountain). In response, he feels there should be a firehall within close proximity to the tank farms. He also stated the federal government should be the primary funder of the firehall’s construction, as the Trans Mountain pipeline is federally owned.
“We’re proud to be part of this neighbourhood and look forward to meeting residents, local businesses, and the SFU community in the coming days,” said fire chief, Chris Bowcock. “Our crews are excited about getting connected and helping to keep people safe.”
According to a 2002 fire safety report, the Burnaby Mountain area “was one of the three areas in Burnaby where fire response times ‘consistently exceed the desired standard.’” UniverCity Community Association president, Mario Guisado, told the Burnaby Beacon: “The concern really has been in time for response. We’re at the top of Burnaby Mountain and the fire stations are generally at the bottom of the hill.” Their concern is that “for a fire truck to get up to the mountain, and then to respond and to find the place,” takes 20 minutes on average.
While fire crews may be able to respond in 20 minutes, in 2021, “the Canada Energy Regulator said that Trans Mountain was able to successfully respond to a fire drill in two-and-a-half hours — ‘well within’ the four-hour goal.” If a fire hazard was present near the Trans Mountain tank farm, they would alert fire crews after their own fire drill. “I’m not sure, in two-and-half hours to four hours, if there’s been a serious fire burning, they’ll even be able to get close to that place after burning for that amount of time,” said Mike Hurley.
16 years later, no action had been taken to address the findings of the 2002 report.
In 2018, UniverCity resident, Paul Saladini, reached out to city officials with concern about “fire trucks having to come up the mountain from Duthie, Brighton, and Hastings for fires and medical emergencies.” Saladnini also expressed concerns regarding the proximity of the UniverCity residences to the tank farms. However, councillor Pietro Calendino, former chair of the City’s public safety committee, was skeptical that funds should be allocated to the project as according to him “the only change [at SFU Burnaby] has been a bit of density that has taken place up there.”
Salandini countered that SFU Burnaby is not the “small, little, sleepy [ . . . ] area” it has been made out to be.
As of February 2023, a temporary fire station located at 9055 University High Street has been kept fully staffed and completely operational while the permanent building is under completion. “I’m thrilled that the City of Burnaby has established a temporary firehall that will support these critical safety needs,” said SFU president, Joy Johnson.
According to the City of Burnaby, Fire Station #8 will be operational on Burnaby Mountain in 2024. The federal government has provided $30-million in funding to the project. The firehall will be built on University Drive between Nelson Way and Tower Road. The two story, seismically designed fire station will include three drive-through bays for fire trucks and separated decontamination stations for crew members.
“This is an important step in our work to enhance emergency fire response in the Burnaby Mountain area,” said Burnaby mayor, Mike Hurley. “Residents have been asking for this and we’re thrilled to be making this happen.”