Firefighters bunker gear and helmets hang. (Healey file photo)

ENFIELD: As of Jan. 1, 2021, residents in the Enfield, HRM and Oldham areas could have to rely on fire response from Station 45 Fall River, almost 20 kilometres away.

Currently, fire response is from Enfield Fire, which is at most five minutes away for many in the area when time is of upmost importance.

However, Halifax Fire has cut the $40,000 it pays Enfield Fire to cover areas in HRM that border with the Hants County community, with the financial payments stopping as of Dec. 31, and the MOU set to stop as of Jan. 1.

What that means is that Enfield could stop responding to calls on the HRM side of Hwy 2 and Hwy 102 (the dangerous stretch of the Airport hill is included in this), any calls on Oldham Road – if an agreement is not reached by both parties.. This would be mvc’s, or fire-related, including structure fires. For some calls recently on Hwy 102, the Enfield department has arrived at sooner then the career staff out of Station 45.

Halifax wants to sign a mutual aid agreement with Enfield so they can still respond, but at no cost to them. The cost would fall back onto East Hants taxpayers for the 100-plus calls the department does into Enfield HRM.

This is concerning to resident Christy O’Neill, who lives past the Irving Big Stop on the HRM side. She is worried about what the cutting of the money will mean to responses.

“To have a fire service that is so close to us (only five minutes away) not providing service is going to create huge delays in getting emergency help at this end of HRM,” said O’Neill. “It’s a pretty large area that the Enfield fire department is close to.”

She was not aware of this happening and so the news came as a shock.

O’Neill said it’s genuinely concerning that the funding from HRM to Enfield will be stopped as of Jan. 1

“It will make waiting for emergency services longer and cost lives,” she said. “Emergency services are an especially important service and should never be cut in anyway.

“Saving lives should be more Important than saving money.”

Karen Scott, who has had several mvc’s in her front yard that Enfield has responded to and arrived before any other emergency responders, said what she had heard about response stopping also has her concerned.

“The extended response time is not just a matter of finances, but life and death,” said Scott. “Several times Enfield fire has been the first on the scene for a life or death event, and quite possibly were the deciding factor in the positive outcome.

“We have often felt we are a forgotten part of HRM, and to hear that they are risking our lives and those of our neighbors over $40, 000 is absolutely absurd.”

Sabrina Partridge lives just down the road from the Irving Big Stop. She was unaware of the pending change to the delivery of services.

“From a community standpoint, this is deeply concerning,” said Partridge. “I live in the effected area and travel the airport section of the highway daily.

“The effects of this change will snowball. Not only will response time be affected directly due to distance, but Halifax Fire will also be stretched too thin covering this new area which will even further affect response time. All to save $40,000 which will easily be spent trying to cover all of the additional calls Halifax Fire will now be covering.”

She said when they purchased home insurance, people are asked how close the nearest fire hydrant is, or failing that, the fire station. A change of service delivery will have a direct impact on insurance premiums.

“This change is not something that should have been considered without public meetings for those effected by the change,” she said. “The payments and service delivery need to be continued to ensure the community will have the best access to assistance when they need it most.”

Halifax Fire spokesman Dave Meldrum said the two departments are working on an auto aid agreement which would see Enfield continue to respond. In the budget plan, which was approved by council last year, for this year it was indicated that the cash for agreement service with Enfield would be discontinued. It was approved by council.

“That agreement, signed in 2004, included quarterly payments of $10,000 each quarter, four times a year to Enfield Fire,” said Meldrum. “It also included us providing dispatching to Enfield.

“We indicated then publicly we would review this agreement.”

He said this is not something new, but they had been planning to do this with the agreement with Enfield and other such agreements for three years.

“Back in 2018, regional council passed an administrative order that gives Halifax Fire its marching orders, and our emergency response time targets,” said Meldrum. “Once we did that, Chief Ken Stuebing said we need to look at all our border areas and make sure we had meaningful and useful mutual aid agreements in place.

Meldrum said in June 2020, Halifax Fire chiefs went out and met with the chief in Enfield, Todd Pepperdine, and gave them both written and verbal notice that the agreement would be concluded.

“During that meeting they agreed to work together on an auto aid agreement,” said Meldrum. “The agreement was terminated on Oct. 1, so there was no payment made.

He said nothing else has changed, stressing they’re still providing dispatch services to Enfield and they are still paging Enfield for calls into those three districts.

“None of those serviceable items have changed, while the chiefs negotiate the automatic aid agreement,” he said. “We believe the auto aid agreement we’re negotiating will be one that serves everybody on both sides of the county line.

“We’re open to continuing the provision of dispatch services and talking which fire districts should or should not be served; to what additional services HRM can provide to Enfield, such as Haz Mat, water rescue, drones.

“We’ll let the chiefs decide what that auto aid agreement looks like, but they’re talking about it actively.”

He pointed out the mvc call on Oldham Road where Enfield was not paged happened just outside the boundary for them, so that is why they were not paged even with the distance Station 45 had to go to get there.

When asked about $40,000 not being paid out but the service continuing, Meldrum wouldn’t comment as the chiefs are negotiating.

“I don’t want to cause any problems as they negotiate,” he said. “They may come up with a whole new agreement.

“We do understand that money is important. We made reductions in a lot of areas and every one of those was important. We don’t underestimate this at all, but with the challenges from COVID19 many of our budget items were impacted. This is one of them.”

Councillor Cathy Deagle Gammon said she had been emailed a few times by concerned residents and firefighters alike about the impending change, a decision made before her time. She said she will investigate it further to hopefully a resolution.

While she is in councillor boot camp with other councillors, Halifax Fire has not been on the agenda yet, but it will be this week. She said she will be asking within council to seek first to understand.

‘I know what the residents are telling me, and I have spoken to a few firefighters as well,” she said. “Now I need to get the information on the other side from Halifax Fire.

One of the stories she has been told is about an incident on Oldham Road where an injured patient had to wait for Station 45 to arrive while Enfield Fire sat empty because they weren’t paged.

“The concerns are legitimate, and that experience of that incident is a good example to build a case of why the payment should be reinstated if at all it can be,” said Deagle Gammon.