It’s 10 a.m. on a damp and chilly February morning, but inside Fire Hall No. 5 on East 54th Avenue at Kerr Street, the kitchen is warm and the room is filled with the tantalizing smell of tomato sauce simmering on the stove. Today it’s “the rookie’s” job to make lunch, so Brad Welder is busy creating meatball sub sandwiches and salad.
It will be one of the last meals any of this four-man crew will cook on the old stove. The aging Fire Hall No. 5, which serves the large community of Killarney, is just weeks away from being demolished and eventually replaced with a modern building complete with seismic upgrades and constructed to LEED gold standards of sustainability. The plans also include a much-needed third bay and space for staff training, as well as room for community outreach programs, including CPR and first aid courses, blood pressure clinics and training for volunteer emergency response groups.
The troublesome driveway on East 54th Avenue will also be reconfigured. As it sits, the driveway is too short to accommodate today’s longer fire trucks and cars waiting at the traffic light at Kerr Street often block emergency vehicles.
In January, the park board approved a plan to temporarily relocate the fire hall from Kerr Street to Fraserview Golf Course, where the crew will work out of a double-wide trailer and the fire truck will be housed under a large canopy. Prior to approaching the park board about using Fraserview Golf Course, the city considered several other locations, including private lands and school board properties, but no central location could be found.
That’s when the park board came on board in an effort to help. The temporary station will include a 24-by-60-foot double-wide trailer for operations and dormitory, and a 20-by-50-foot fabric covered equipment shelter to house the fire engine.
The new station will be needed as the East Fraser Lands are developed, bringing up to 40,000 new residents to Killarney and Champlain Heights. Construction of the new fire hall should be completed by the summer of 2014.
Mike Rosyshuk, acting captain for Fire Hall No. 5, grew up in Killarney and says the community has changed dramatically since he was a boy collecting golf balls at Fraserview Golf Course, fishing for trout in the Fraser River and salvaging coloured bottles from the former Kerr Road garbage dump, where today sits Everett Crowley Park.
Rosyshuk says in the early days of Fire Hall No. 5, there was a permanent water line that ran between the station and the garbage dump due to the numerous methane gas fires that erupted spontaneously. He remembers building tree forts and finding First Nations artifacts like beads and arrow-heads along the Fraser River.
“This area was all bush and there were logging mills along the river,” says Rosyshuk, whose parents also grew up in the neighbourhood. “It was a great place to grow up.”
On this day Rosyshuk is at the station, long known as “Fort Apache” for its once “remote” location, with Welder and fellow officers Jarret Gray and Bob Klein. During a tour of the decrepit building, it’s obvious it needs upgrades.
Rosyshuk, who studied sculpture at Emily Carr University of Art and Design before becoming a firefighter, points out a rosewood ash tree outside the Kerr Street side of the station, planted in memory of their late comrade Sam Wice. Rosyshuk says Wice and another member, Amrik Bains, rescued the tree from a city refuse pile. “Sammy nursed the tree, brought it back from certain death and it was moved to the firehall. Thus the Sammy Wice tree was born,” says Rosyshuk.
The tree will be dug up and replanted at the golf course for the duration of their stay, up to two years. Whether the tree will survive is questionable, but this crew is determined to give it their best shot.
With the new fire hall, the crew will also do its best to meet the demands of the rapidly expanding East Fraser Lands and River District. The crew already responds to calls across Killarney, which stretches from the Fraser River the south, Kingsway to the north, Boundary to the east and Elliot and Vivian streets to the west. One or two additional fire halls will likely be built in the near future to better react to the growing neighbourhood.
But until that happens, the dedicated crew of Firehall No. 5 will remain on guard for the people of Killarney — from the Fraserview Golf Course.
See more photos below.