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Calgary’s latest fire house: Visits to the fire house in Calgary have taken a new meaning

Visits to the fire house in Calgary have taken a new meaning over the past couple of years in this city of more than one million people.

December 6, 2007  By Rob Evans

Visits to the fire house in Calgary have taken a new meaning over the past couple of years in this city of more than one million people. Since 2000 three new fire stations in the city have been built using residential homes with large, oversized garages.

The latest opened Feb. 14 in the fast-growing community of Royal Oak in the northwest part of the city. The house was built along with a neighbouring EMS house in partnership with Shane Homes Ltd. of Calgary.

Fire Chief Bruce Burrell said, "The Fire and EMS houses are an innovative solution to the need for better emergency response capabilities in our rapidly growing city."

Royal Oak grew by more than 1,600 people from 2005 to 2006 according to the latest census results. This community and three others in the surrounding area, with a total population of over 34,000, will benefit directly from the construction of these two facilities. During 2006 the fire department responded to 637 incidents in these communities. The fire crew had already responded to 60 calls in the first 30 days of operation, including a two-alarm townhouse fire.


The station, #34, houses a full-size CAFS pumper with a crew of four fire fighters 24/7 and is a model for safe housing. Both the Fire and EMS houses feature approximately 40 safety features built into the design. One of the features in the homes is the sprinkler system that goes throughout the house and garage. Burrell used the opening to stress the importance of adding this feature to new home construction.

"Unfortunately, they (new home buyers) don't even consider a sprinkler system," said Burrell. Most people think about upgrading to granite countertops or to better flooring."

According to Burrell, since 1990 when Vancouver passed a sprinkler bylaw for new residences, that city has not had one fire death. Between 2002 and 2006 Calgary had 26 fire fatalities. "24 of them were people who died in residential fires," said Burrell. In that period there were also 274 civilian fire injuries."

Fire loss in Calgary during 2006 is estimated to have destroyed $22 million worth of property, up from $10 million the year before. "A lot of sprinkler systems could have been installed for $22 million," says Burrell.

The Royal Oak house will remain in service until a new tri-service (Fire, EMS and Police) facility is built in around 2010. At that point the Fire and EMS homes will be decommissioned and sold.

The use of these temporary fire houses is sure to continue as they provide the fire department with an effective tool in delivering valuable fire service to the citizens of Calgary. Fire houses will continue to be used in areas that see rapid growth in population and call volumes, helping Calgarians reach that next million.

Some of the Safety features:

  • Sprinkler systems throughout, including in the garage.
  • Motion-sensitive step lighting on stairs.
  • Non-combustible cement tile roof.
  • Non-slip surfaces on decks and exterior stairs.
  • Sliding one-piece closet doors, rather than bi-fold doors, to reduce the risk of pinched fingers.
  • Insulated vent pipes that become warm, rather than hot, to the touch for the dual hot water tanks and furnaces.
  • Fireproof mineral wool insulation in all walls and ceilings.
  • Battery-operated emergency lighting in case of a power failure.
  • Carbon monoxide and smoke detectors.
  • Fire-resistant paint on all exposed wood surfaces including basement framing materials. The paint reacts chemically to fire heat, expanding to act as a fire barrier.
  • Stairs that are wider and less steep than usual and handrails that are rounded.
  • Rounded edges on all outside drywall corners.
  • A bracket on the back of the stove to prevent tipping.
  • Infrared heating in the garage.
  • Cordless window blinds to eliminate entanglement.
  • A protective film applied to at-grade windows to help prevent breakage and increase privacy.

Calgary's first fire station
When Calgary's first recorded fire broke out in January 1885 the newly arrived settlers, who numbered less than 1,000, hadn't had time to organize a volunteer fire department. Citizens who assembled out of curiosity took to throwing snowballs at the flames, and according to the press, were almost as effective as those who were passing pails of water from a town water tank.

On Aug. 24, 1885, members of the community met and organized the Calgary Hook, Ladder and Bucket Corps. The corps included a bucket brigade, a chemical fire engine, a hook-and-ladder company and 22 volunteer members were enrolled.

During those days it was the ambition of every red-blooded young man to belong to the department. These young men worked at other jobs, but when the firebell rang they dropped whatever they were doing and went to the fire. They were paid 75 cents for each fire they attended and according to a voluntary fireman in charge of the roll call, they had 100 per cent attendance for every fire. Calgary's first fire captain, George Constantine, was elected Aug. 25, 1885. Captain was the highest rank on the fire department at the time. He resigned one week later, so on Sept. 1 a new captain, Steve Jarrett, was elected. The rank of chief didn't come into being until Nov. 1, 1886. Jarrett was then appointed chief but resigned five months later. From 1885 through 1898, Calgary had six fire chiefs besides Constantine and Jarrett. Frank Dick served twice. The others were E.R. Rodgers, James Wilson, Hugh McClelland and Cappy Smart.

On Nov. 1, 1886, city council agreed to build a fire hall, which later stood on 7th Avenue East, in the vicinity of the St. Regis Hotel. This hall was completed in May 1887. On April 12, 1887, Frank Dick became fire chief.

On May 24, 1887, the opening of the first fire hall took place. It was built at 122 McIntyre Ave., (7th Avenue East). Shortly thereafter, G.O. Woodman adjudicated the Calgary Fire Brigade. The inspector for The City of London Fire Insurance Company concluded: "At my suggestion, an alarm was turned on and a run of close to a quarter of a mile given to the tank at the corner of Scarth Street and Stephen Avenue. In five and a half minutes after the alarm was sounded two streams were thrown over the Alberta Hotel, a three-story building. There was no delay or confusion amongst the men in getting to work and they appeared well-trained and well-managed."

Source: Calgary Fire Department

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