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A peek inside Squamish's new Fire Hall 1

The much-anticipated $16.7 million structure will officially open in July.

Countless hours of planning and council meetings are starting to come to fruition, as the $16.7-million Valleycliffe-Hospital Hill Fire Hall 1 is just a handful of months away from completion.

On April 25, District officials offered a glimpse inside the structure, which is expected to be officially opened in early July.

When The Squamish Chief toured the facility, the final shape of the structure was starting to take form, though construction workers were still finishing much of the interior.

The new building has been a long time coming and has been a priority for the District as part of its Real Estate and Facilities Master Plan, which identified the replacement of the Valleycliffe fire hall as a key priority.

The old hall was scrapped, and the District hired Kinetic Construction Ltd. to manage the creation of the new one that will soon be operating in its place. In the meantime, a temporary fire hall has been erected next to the hospital.

HCMA Architecture and Design was behind the design of the new Squamish Fire Rescue building.

"This building's important because we've also moved our emergency operations centre up here," said Mayor Karen Elliott. "We've moved the administration for the firefighters up here; our server farms up here — now all out of the floodplain. So we've built in a lot of resiliency with this building, including better health and safety features for our firefighters. So this is a really important building."

Kal Bragg, the municipality's director of facilities, said the $16.7-million building is expected to be on budget and on time. Once this new facility is complete, the temporary fire hall that housed its crew by the hospital will be moved to the Tantalus area. There, it will act as a substitute for the Tantalus fire hall as that respective building undergoes its major overhaul.

Bragg said the Valleycliffe building has been future-proofed for 10 to 15 years, which means some parts of the building's configuration can be changed to accommodate future needs.

"If we need to move items around internally, we can move from the offices that are out," Bragg said.

Deputy fire chief Aaron Foote said that the municipality would be moving a ladder truck to the location for quicker access to taller buildings and denser areas.

The building will be self-sufficient for seven days with a backup generator.

"It'll improve the daytime responses for now and into the future," said Foote. "And we'll have accommodations for additional shifts at night…That will decrease the response time to the downtown core, which would be a big improvement in the denser areas."

Foote said the bottom line is that residents living in denser parts of Squamish can anticipate having several minutes shaved off the department's response time.

There were also environmental considerations that went into the facility's creation.

Foote said the building is all-electric, and Bragg noted that the design incorporates wood rather than steel, saving the carbon footprint.

The engine bays

Perhaps the most noticeable feature of the new building is the large, cavernous area dedicated to the engine bays.

It's here that the municipality's fire trucks will be housed.

Giant wood beams stretch overhead and the buzz and clang of construction echoes throughout the space. Workers in hardhats and safety vests are still busy putting the facility together.

It's here that Foote points out what will soon become the home of four engine bays that will each have their respective apparatus — or fire engine — pointed outwards.

Less obvious is what Foote calls the "decon" or decontamination areas, where firefighters will be able to give both themselves and their gear a clean after responding to incidents.

A commercial laundry unit with a gear extractor will also be present. Foote said this will allow for a higher level of extraction of contaminants compared with a residential machine.

"That's a big upgrade for the fire department," he said.

That's not all though.

There will also be a new system for cleaning hard surfaces, such as the breathing apparatus used by firefighters in smokey situations.

"We have a decon room for that with an ultrasonic cleaning tank," said Foote.

"This is pretty revolutionary. In fire departments. We're one of the first in the Lower Mainland, at least, to have this ultrasonic cleaning unit, which really gets into the microbes of all the hard surfaces that [we] put in for cleaning. So our self-contained breathing apparatus, the tanks itself, go into the dip tank, basically, and [come out] ultra-sonically clean."

The Emergency Operations Centre

The skeletal frames of many of the rooms upstairs were still visible as municipal officials toured the building on April 25. Much of it will soon be office and administrative space for the fire hall.

Like in much of the facility, construction workers were seen working on the guts of the building, stooped over floors, examining walls and perched on ladders raised towards the ceiling.

Perhaps the biggest highlight of the second floor was the Emergency Operations Centre.

While it was still taking form, it will soon be the brain of Squamish's emergency responses.

"Emergency Operations Centre is a key facility during natural disasters, large events," said Foote.

It's the place from where emergency support staff will manage a large incident in the community. This could be a fire, a flood or any other number of critical events.

While it was sparse at the time of visit, Foote said that its walls would soon be covered in monitor screens. Breakout rooms linking to the centre will allow different divisions of the emergency response team to work in separate spaces when necessary.

The current centre is in the RCMP detachment building. There are two advantages to moving its location to Valleycliffe.

"One, the current location is in the floodplain, which is probably our most likely natural hazard and swamp, and the second part is it frees up space in the current RCMP building for bylaw and some of the other departments that need the space there," Foote said.

The other rooms

While many may take for granted sprinkler systems in buildings, Squamish's firefighters don't.

"Our other fire halls weren't sprinklered," said Foote, referring to the water-entry room. "Through time, we've learned that it's probably best we sprinkler our fire hall."

As a result, the new fire hall will have a sprinkler system and a fire alarm, he said, pointing to a room filled with valves and pipes.

There will also be a turnout gear room that will be separate from the engine bay. This would be the place where firefighters keep their jackets, pants, boots and helmets at the ready before they head out on a call.

"There's always concerns with contaminants when your turnout gear's stored on the apparatus bay," said Foote. "And so this is a separate room. It [has a] separate HVAC system in this room if you have contaminants from the rest of the building. Clean turnout here would go in here."

Meeting rooms were also present in the fire hall.

"It's in short supply in the District, I understand," said Foote.

The rooms can be booked by any municipal department. Additional office space will also be present, and a fitness room will help firefighters keep in shape.

Foote noted that Squamish Fire Rescue has been doing backcountry responses along with Squamish Search and Rescue, and these often require lengthy treks through areas inaccessible to vehicles.

A reception area and wheelchair-accessible washrooms will be available as well.

Correction: An earlier version of this story had conflicting information about environmental certifications that has since been removed for clarity.


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