After decades of operating out of cramped quarters and with equipment and resources scattered in buildings around the base, CFB Esquimalt firefighters are counting down the days to a move into one of the country's most modern and technologically advanced facilities. The $18.6-million building is expected to be completed in November and ready for the firefighters early next year.
It can't come soon enough for chief Steve Mullen. "Myself and my predecessor [Rick Mutas] spent the better part of about two and a half years, with a number of other people on the base, designing a building with all the amenities and the stuff that we require to move ahead," said Mullen during a tour of the hall this week.
"It's been a long time coming and we are looking forward to moving in to it."
High-tech features include outdoor underground bollards that can pop up in seconds in case a vehicle tries to ram into the building. On the upper floor, indoor office windows are made of energized privacy glass, which means they can be transformed from clear to frosted in just a split second. The glass is being installed in part of the emergency operations centre, which is also being housed in this building. The centre is currently located in the basement of the base's Nelles Block.
The purpose-built 47,770-square-foot structure has been designed so that it can keep operating after an earthquake.
The move will finally let the fire department consolidate its operations.
Staff and gear have been farmed out for years to other buildings because the existing hall is outdated and overcrowded. Replacement plans dating back to the 1980s did not proceed for various reasons, but this latest project was finally approved, with Preview Builders International Inc. carrying out construction at the corner of Esquimalt Road and Sturdee Street.
There were 75 workers on the site this week.
Instead of squeezing fire trucks into the old hall - navigating carefully because there are only inches to spare - firefighters will have five spacious drive-through bays, plenty of storage for gear and materials, radiant heat in floors, classrooms and equipment for training.
There's also a 20-room dorm and a customdesigned training tower as well as countless smaller features throughout.
"It is going to be a onestop location," said Mullen. "We've outgrown the hall," he said, holding a photograph of the current fire hall dating back to 1938. He figures it is even older than that. "You can imagine the apparatus of the day. Now we've got vehicles that are three times the size."
While the building is scheduled to be finished in November, Mullen said the move will likely take place early next year after staff have been trained in new technology and equipment has been tested.
New technology requiring training includes computer-aided dispatching and GIS mapping, "the type of thing a lot of our contemporaries have been using for a number of years." he said.
All base firefighters, except senior officers, also work as dispatchers.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay was in Victoria in 2010 when it was announced the project would cost $35.5 million in total. Equipment includes a new replacement pumper truck, now being inspected prior to the base accepting delivery. More new trucks are expected in the next 18 months, Mullen said. The old building is to be deconstructed.
The base fire department has 103 staff when all positions are filled, including 88 firefighters working in four platoons. Firefighters not only respond to emergencies on the base and Naden, but also at Work Point Barracks. The department also has a mutual aid agreement with the municipality of Esquimalt and the Esquimalt Graving Dock.
To make this building extra-strong, it has a skeleton of structural steel and everything is built around it, said Eric Service, coordinator of construction services for Defence Construction Canada, a Crown corporation carrying out work for the Department of National Defence.
The concrete floor and the walls in the basement are reinforced with rebar. Ducts and pipe are reinforced as well. The building was designed without overhead wires. "Because of the nature of this building, it has to be operational without hiccups," said Service.
Back ups to back ups are incorporated in the building. If power goes out, an uninterrupted power source system immediately kicks in to be followed in seconds by generated power, Service said. The basement holds two massive generators. Each cost $125,000 and has a 500-gallon "belly tank" of diesel fuel.
Nearby are two 10,000-litre tanks of potable water, in case services are cut off in a disaster.
David Ho, a mechanical engineer with Smith Carter, the design and engineering company hired to work on the building, said that it was drawn up with sustainability in mind. For example, an energy recovery system was built into the design and the radiant floor heating is an effective way to deliver heat.
The building rises 80 feet from the first floor to the top of the third. The main floor includes the reception area, parking bays with a fire pole, plenty of storage, an alarm room and dispatch centre, board room and offices for senior officers, complete with beds folding out from walls.
Individual dorms for firefighters have nine-foot-high ceilings and walls seven and a half feet tall. Each dorm has a locker, bed and intercom. One short hall holds dorms dubbed the "snore corner" for the loudest sleepers. Currently, firefighters bunk down in one shared space. "This is a vast improvement over what they have now," Service said.
The emergency operations centre, with restricted access, is on the second floor, where the main work room has a wall waiting for monitors.
A new training tower for firefighters was built to allow training for different emergencies. Features include a sprinkler system, openings to simulate windows, a system to generate artificial smoke, a mock-up of a roof and the ability to rappel down the side.