Debate hits issues of fire safety in Langley

Firefighting and public safety were the main topics of a Langley Township all-candidates forum held Friday night in Willoughby.

All three mayoral candidates, Jack Froese, Rick Green, and Serena Oh, along with all but two of the council candidates attended, which led to a crowded field and only a few minutes for each candidate to speak during the two-hour forum.

Organized by IAFF Local 4550, the union of Township firefighters, many of the questions were about increasing the number of firefighters on crews to guarantee they will have four people to respond on each team. Four-man teams are the industry standard for full time crews, while the Township sometimes deploys three-man crews.

Other questions were about whether firefighters should be used increasingly to respond to medical emergencies, and where a fifth full-time firehall should be built. 

Council candidate Zosia Ettenberg was in favour of looking at expanding the use of firefighters for medical calls.

She said she appreciates that firefighters are often the first called.

“I’ve fallen a couple of times, and guess who I called?” said Ettenberg, who uses a wheelchair.

On the question of the placement of a fifth hall, candidates mentioned that it’s uncertain given current development patterns. Brookswood was the obvious choice in past years, but the area’s expansion is now at least temporarily on hold pending a new Official Community Plan.

Councillor Kim Richter said the next election will likely determine whether Brookswood will need a full-time hall, or whether another hall should be built in fast-growing Willoughby.

Kerri Ross, the other Live Langley candidate, touched on the same issues when she was asked the question. She said if populations are underestimated for areas like Willoughby, halls could be understaffed for the service needs. 

Coun. Steve Ferguson also said the community needs to look at its needs and growth before deciding where another hall should be located.

Mayoral candidate Oh mentioned that she would like to see even the four-minute response time seen as an industry gold standard cut down.

“I think four minutes is too long,” Oh said, suggesting two minutes.

Changes to the fire service need to keep pace with development, said candidate Petrina Arnason.

“We need to consider that we’re no longer a rural community,” she said.

On adding a fourth person to fire crews, candidate Clint Lee of the two-person Live Langley council slate said he would support increasing the numbers from three.

“That’s imply unacceptable to me,” Lee said of three-person crews.

Patricia Lessard also mentioned the four person crews, saying that while the fire service is generally excellent, “There is always room for improvement.”

“You can’t run a fire crew without having a full crew,” said candidate Jackie Mandzak.

Green was asked about his priorities for the Township if elected.

He promised to create a new fire department advisory committee that will hear from the grassroots about the needs to the department.

Asked what would make him a worthy member of council, Kevin Mitchell said he would bring a disciplined engineering background.

“What I’ve seen over the last number of terms is a lack of discipline on council,” he said.

Froese suggested looking at integrated teams, like policing teams such as IHIT, when asked about how the Township relies on its neighbours for certain specialized rescue services. Municipalities could share costs that way and spread out expertise among multiple fire departments, Froese said.

Willoughby issues came up repeatedly during the night. Candidate Angie Quaale was asked from the floor about safety issues on the Willoughby slope area.

She said there were a number of options to improve safety in the area, from the structure of crosswalks to modifications for people with mobility issues.

Asked about the number one safety issue on the Willoughby slope, Green named out of control development and too much density.

The candidates stuck to answers of between one minute and thirty seconds to ensure that everyone had the chance to answer at least two questions.

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