By Tom Sheppard
Bill Wamboldt said the North Queens Fire and Rescue Association doesn't spend much time getting cats out of trees anymore. People seem to be taking better care of their cats.
What it does do is much more complex, however, and Bill explained the challenges to a crowd of more than sixty who attended a public meeting last week to look at revamped plans for a new fire hall and rescue centre for the North Queens area.
Mayor Chris Clarke and several Region of Queens councillors were also in attendance.
Wamboldt, who is part of a committee working to bring a new hall into existence, said that the Fire Association, which started out in 1931 and was incorporated in 1939, was no longer just a fire department. "We are," he said, "basically an emergency response organization." He said the association responds to every incident that occurs in this North Queens - South Annapolis area and sometimes beyond, if called for mutual aid.
The organization is now involved not only in fire suppression and prevention, but in water rescue over a vast area of lakes and rivers; hazardous material cleanup, car accidents and emergency response when people are in trouble. "We have become much more than just a fire department," he said. "This institution has become a critical part of this community."
The current fire hall, located on the main street, was built in 1973. It was built with volunteer labour, plus there are expensive maintenance problems, and it is much too small for the equipment necessary for looking after its catchment area, which includes all of North Queens and South Annapolis Counties.
In that area, of course, is some of the most significant wilderness in the province, involving both Kejimkujik National Park and the Tobeatic, both encompassed by the Southwest Biosphere Reserve. Bill Wamboldt said, "We have a big area to look after."
The problems with the current hall include the fact that there is not enough room for all of the equipment to be stored inside, and that the roof is so low that most modern fire vehicles cannot even get inside. The height restrictions severely limit the kinds of equipment the association can purchase.
This was not the first public meeting held to discuss a new fire hall. In January 2009 a similar crowd gathered in the same place to discuss plans for a hall, which were unveiled that night. That hall was a beauty of design, function and potential and would have cost in excess of three million dollars to build.
At that time the fire association partnered with the Acadia Centre for Small Business Excellence to develop a business plan for the centre, and those in attendance at the meeting were invited to share their thoughts as to how the centre would be developed. One of the things that came out of that meeting and report, Bill Wamboldt said, was that the lifeblood of any rural community involves the buildings and infrastructure that allow the members of the community to come together.
Another fact that came out of the study was that in the North Queens - South Annapolis area there were about eighteen halls and rooms for community use, but the majority of them held less than a hundred people. Many were old and would require major expenditures to keep them up, and they could not serve adequately in emergencies, hence the need for a new centre.
Bill said that in the economic climate of the time it seemed that it would have been possible to build the hall, but as time went on it became clear that the necessary financial partners were not there. As a result, it was back to the drawing board for the fire association, with new plans unveiled last week.
The new plans show a still-substantial building with four entrances for fire trucks facing the street, and a fifth at the side. There is also a community room, which would be used for meetings and public events, but more importantly, would be a rescue centre in case of fire, flood, power outage or other disaster.
Already this year the current hall was strained when used as a gathering centre for students who had to be evacuated from the North Queens Schools when there was an incident related to roof repairs.
After the presentations by Bill Wamboldt and Fire Chief David Lohnes, people from the community had a chance to offer their opinions, the most common being that the committee should develop spending goals and forge ahead with fundraising. Mayor Chris Clarke praised the initiative and said that, despite problems facing the Region's financing, the Region and the community would "walk hand in hand."
- Tom Sheppard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org