‘No openness’ in news of firehall closure

A firehall in the quiet rural neighbourhood of Port Kells will soon be little more than a historic landmark, as the fire department is closing it down at the end of the month.

Darlene Bowyer of the Port Kells Community Association said the community was taken completely by surprise last week when they discovered the volunteer-run firehall will shut down March 31.

“Nobody gave a heads up to the community at all,” said Bowyer. “There seems to be just no openness at all with this procedure.”

The firehall was started in the ’40s with a $500 investment from the community and some lumber donated by a local mill, explained Bowyer. Over the years the community has taken great pride in their firehall and several years ago dedicated a $16,000 statue of a volunteer firefighter letting a child try on a fire helmet.

Because of these investments, Bowyer said the community deserved the “decency” of being notified about the closure.

“So we could go and thank our firefighters for all the time that they served to this community. They didn’t even give us an opportunity to do a polite thing like that.”

But Surrey Fire Chief Len Garis said the

community was given eight weeks notice and there should have been “no surprise to them at all.”

Garis said the decision to close the hall was based on a comprehensive 18 month analysis of Surrey Fire’s delivery of services. That report revealed the volunteers don’t live in Port Kells and as such there were wasted department resources during emergency calls.

“Maybe I’m making an assumption here but the property values in the area are such that they can’t live there,” said Garis. “So they live in another area and they have to drive to the station and then get on the truck and go to the call.”

Garis noted the fire department is closing Firehall 3 at 117th Street and 96th Avenue for similar reasons.

“What we discovered was that for the majority of the calls that occur, which is a handful that occur annually, is more and more the fact that the adjacent station was getting to the call before they were even able to turn out,” said Garis.

The volunteers at the firehalls being closed down will be reassigned to existing ones designated to service North Surrey and Port Kells, he added.

“What we did is we’ve reassigned the members to another station and we will use them as support services in another role.”

Garis said Port Kells’ firehall served the community for many years and noted that although the firefighters were late in responding to calls, the average time savings worked about to “about a 30 second difference.”

“I don’t want to say the guys who did the job before didn’t do a good job. It’s not a question of that at all. It’s a question of safety and putting vehicles on the road in emergencies when you know full well the one beside it will get to it before they’re able to service the call.”

The buildings being closed will now revert back into Surrey’s property inventory.

Bowyer said she hopes Port Kells can retain the heritage asset and convert it for public use into a boys and girls club, or a youth or seniors centre.

“I hope they’re not going to demolish it,” said said. “Nowadays with heritage they try and work with the builders and have a readaptive reuse for these buildings.”

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