Dick Braunschweig

East Sooke voting for new fire hall

Residents are deciding whether they want and need a new fire hall

East Sooke needs a new fire hall and the people living in the area are being asked to vote in a referendum which will, if successful, see a new $2.12-million fire hall built on a new site. The referendum is currently ongoing and residents have until April 27 to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the proposed bylaws to borrow money for the construction of a new fire hall and increase the annual requisition for service.

The current firehall, on Coppermine Road, is more than a place to store the fire trucks, it is also a community centre where people come to do yoga, practice karate and meet. The needs of the fire department and the community have grown but the building has not.

The East Sooke fire hall was built in 1985 by volunteers, local citizens and contractors, and at the time it housed the lone 1949 International fire truck. It serviced 550 residents. Fast forward to 2013 and the area now has 1,750 residents and three fire trucks. Last year the department responded to 80 calls for fires, traffic accidents and medical aid.

Dick Braunschweig, chairperson of the East Sooke Fire and Emergency Response Service Commission, is advocating for a new fire hall.

“The best time to get a hall is now, the (interest) rates are low,” he said.

Braunschweig said the fire department services an area stretching from Silver Spray to Mt. Matheson and every place in-between.

“We have to be responsible to both of them in an expedient manner.”

There are approximately 30 volunteer firefighters in the East Sooke fire department with a paid fire chief, deputy chief and captain.

“They are definitely dedicated people who care about their community,” said Braunschweig, in regard to the volunteers, “wish we had more of them.”

He said the recent fire at the home of former CRD regional director Brian Henson, pointed out the lack of firefighters during daylight hours. They had under 10 from their own community, but were aided by firefighters from Sooke.

“We can’t continue to provide service to East Sooke if they don’t give us the tools to provide it. We’re asking for a vote of confidence for a new hall. Sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do (meaning raising taxes)… a new hall happens to be one of them.”

Studies have been done and it was learned that the current hall would fall down in the event of a sizeable earthquake, rendering the fire department useless. It cannot function as a post-disaster facility. The hall can only accommodate three fire trucks, not the four recommended by the Provincial Fire Commissioner’s Office. In 2012 an inspector for the Fire Insurance Underwriters toured the existing hall and voiced strong concerns over non-compliance with recommendations made in the past.

The new location for a fire hall, if approved by referendum, is past Ragland Place, about one km. from the current site.

Juan de Fuca Regional Director Mike Hicks said the cost of a new fire hall for homeowners would be about $50 per $1,000 assessed value (depending on the interest rate).

“This is the perfect time for East Sooke residents to build a new fire hall. Interest rates will never be lower and construction costs will never be more competitive. The average house house increase in taxes of $250 will still leave East Sooke residents with lower combined taxes than many communities in the CRD and Vancouver Island.

“East Sooke has been working on this for years and I really hope they will take the leap.”

Voting takes place in the downstairs hall of the East Sooke fire hall between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.