Part 2 - ‘These buildings are falling down’: Trio of Mississauga fire stations pose safety risk, damning audit finds
While no one was looking, decades flew by and, without investment as new residents flocked to Mississauga, its infrastructure became stretched and underfunded.
Three fire stations, where women and men work around the clock, are now no longer structurally sound.
An audit conducted for the City of Mississauga in May 2019 studied 14 of its oldest fire stations. The alarming document, which staff have not released publicly, contains a laundry list of needed repairs to get the stations up to minimum safety standards. Three of them need to be torn down and rebuilt to reach the most basic standards, the document shows.
It’s unclear if City Hall’s elected officials were told about the audit or if it was shared with them when it was completed. Two members, Councillors Ron Starr and Carolyn Parrish, suggested they were unfamiliar with it when The Pointer posed questions. None of the other ten members of Council responded.
In the first part of The Pointer’s Forgotten Fire series, the document’s broad findings were outlined, including a total repair cost for the fire stations estimated at $31.4 million.
For three of the service’s buildings, even millions of dollars in repairs would not be enough. Fire Station 104 (Port Credit), 107 (Erindale) and 109 (Fire hall/training) are unable to meet building code safety regulations even with wide scale refurbishments and will require the City to start from scratch.
(From top to bottom) Fire Station 104 (Port Credit), 107 (Erindale) and 109 (Fire hall/training) are all unable to meet building code safety regulations.
The three buildings were constructed in 1955, 1970 and 1987. The oldest, Port Credit, has been standing for 65 years and predates the incorporation of the City of Mississauga in 1974.
The City says its solutions for the buildings, long overdue to be replaced, will be detailed in a Fire Renewal Review document, still being drafted and with no set date to be released. Staff say it will “put together a long term strategy” for Mississauga Fire and its buildings.
“These three stations, they don’t even paint them anymore, they’re such a disaster,” Union boss Chris Varcoe told The Pointer, saying Fire Station 101, not included in the audit, is in a similar state of disrepair.
The report, obtained by The Pointer through a Freedom of Information request, after City staff refused to share it, states the Port Credit station “falls short on most requirements” for minimum standards set in the audit. Unlike some other stations, it was determined it “cannot meet the required standards even with upgrades,” meaning it will need to be replaced, the report says.
The station’s future is complicated further because of its heritage status, meaning additional approvals would be needed to tear it down or make major renovations.
Fire Station 107 which services the Erindale community also falls short of most requirements. The audit says “a major and unfeasible renovation” would be needed to bring it “closer to standards”. Among its deficiencies, an elevator would need to be added, something the report states is not feasible.
For Fire Station 109, in the Britannia and Dixie Road area, the situation is arguably worse still. A “poor” classification for the building’s condition means it is “in very bad shape,” according to the report and, even with repairs, would fail to meet standards.
The City has been in possession of this report, examining Mississauga Fire’s infrastructure, since it was finished in May 2019. Instead of taking immediate action to address the dangerous situation, officials have been working on a separate document — The Fire Renewal Review — which still does not have a release date. It remains unclear when the funding will be provided, or when the City intends to take the required steps to ensure the safety of employees in the fire department.
The poor conditions are also impacting response times to fire-related calls in the city, which as of 2018 were, on average, more than twice the four-minute maximum established by a national standard.
Inside City Hall, the slow response is potentially putting lives at risk.
“The big piece right now for us is to take that audit, develop the plan with our finance people and a long-term strategy. I can assure that the health and safety issues are addressed, we’re not in any situation where the stations are falling down or unsafe,” Fire Chief Tim Beckett told The Pointer at a Mississauga press conference. “We just need to make sure we have a long-term plan to ensure the sustainability of these stations.”
The press event was the only way questions on the audit could be posed after the City ignored a request for a formal interview to address the report’s disturbing revelations.
Mississauga Fire Chief Tim Beckett
Beckett’s view is not shared by Varcoe — and seems to contradict the conclusions of the audit, conducted internally by the City.
The audit recommends “more frequent studies” of Fire Station 104 due to its age. It points to a need to “determine the structural adequacy of the foundation and footings.” At building 107, the audit recommends replacing steel lintels above windows “to prevent future building superstructure damage.” In Station 109, the same lintels should “be replaced in the immediate year ” or have tests done to “determine the overall structural adequacy of nearby systems.”
A spokesperson for the City responded to follow-up questions Friday afternoon, saying the foundations for Station 104 are still within their typical lifespan.
The spokesperson said no further studies have been done for the building, and contradicted the internal audit, claiming “nor are they necessary at this time.”
“For Station 109, no tests have been completed.” The station’s lintels will be replaced a year late, according to the City, before the end of 2020. There is “no indication that structural integrity of the building has been compromised.”
“Let’s face facts: these buildings are falling down,” Varcoe said. “I know that they like to keep pushing it off and they’re easy projects to get rid of in favour of other, flashier spending … I think it is time they start providing proper facilities for firefighters to be staying in.”
Despite the clear need to address issues at the stations, which the City’s own report admits can’t simply be patched up, nothing has been addressed publicly. The 2020 budget’s 10-year capital plan makes reference to “fire station renovations” for 107, but 104 and 109 do not even feature in the document. A spokesperson for the City said they would be addressed in the The Fire Renewal Review, which has no deadline attached to it.
Head of the Mississauga firefighters union Chris Varcoe believes councillors have put off investing in the city's fire stations in favour of other, "flashier" projects.
Although Varcoe doesn’t lay blame at the feet of the current Fire Chief or Mayor Bonnie Crombie and her council colleagues, he described a general disinterest from city councillors toward the needs of Mississauga’s fire service. “No one on council ever reaches out to me to ask about fire. I think they just take the reports at their face value and that’s the end of it,” he said.
The Pointer contacted each of Mississauga’s 12 council members on three separate occasions for comment on the report. Only Ward 6 Councillor Ron Starr and Ward 5 Councillor Carolyn Parrish responded — the others did not respond, but Crombie did reply to a question during a press conference.
Parrish and Starr did not address any action being taken to fund the needed work on the fire stations.
“We certainly have a fulsome 10-year capital plan,” Crombie told The Pointer when asked what she would do during the 2021 budget cycle to ensure the buildings get the repairs and dollars they need. She added the City was required to meet provincial guidelines, saying “we will” do so.
It’s unclear why funding was not addressed last year, for the 2020 budget process, considering the audit was completed in May of 2019.
“Council has been very supportive of our [2019 Fire] Master Plan and very supportive of community safety and I want to thank them for their continued support,” Chief Beckett said. But he did not mention the funding or work needed to address the dangerous state of disrepair at the stations highlighted in the audit.
A map showing the location of all Mississauga fire halls
As The Pointer has previously reported, Mississauga Fire went years without new investment, leading to dangerously slow response times that are more than twice what they should be. Between 2006 and October 2019, while approximately 108,000 new residents moved to Mississauga, the City didn’t open a single new fire station. It currently should have about 44, but only operates with 21.
During the summer of 2019, Council scrambled to plug the gap, approving six new stations across 12 years.
But it remains unclear what will be done to address the buildings that currently do not meet safety standards.
With the 2021 budget already on the horizon and a $9-million deficit left for the City when provincial/federal pandemic support and cost savings are taken into account, questions about the fire service loom. Will councillors step up and demand the infrastructure renewal report be completed so needed funding can be built into the 2021 budget, or will they sit silently as they have in the past?
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