Penticton revitalization means re-thinking fire protection plan

Changes to the 200-block of Main Street have Penticton’s fire chief rethinking how to deal with fire protection.

Penticton's downtown Main Street is a busy place on Saturdays

Penticton's downtown Main Street is a busy place on Saturdays

Changes to the 200-block of Main Street have Penticton’s fire chief rethinking how to deal with fire protection on Saturday mornings, during the popular Community Market.

“With the changes and the revitalization, it limited our fire department access because of the way they wanted the market laid out,” said Fire Chief Larry Watkinson. The downtown revitalization process brought wider sidewalks to that block and one less traffic lane which means access for the fire trucks is problematic when the street is also stuffed with vendors.

“We sat down and banged out a number of different ideas that didn’t really appeal to either the vendors or the merchants or the Downtown Penticton Association, so we went back to the drawing table and came up with some unique firefighting tactics,” said Watkinson.

Because the main fire hall (Nanaimo Avenue) is so close to the downtown area, Watkinson said the fire department can restructure resources for the Saturday mornings.

“What we will allow the market to do is set up back to back vendors, down the centre lane,” said Watkinson. The fire trucks will have permanent staging location at the intersections, and firefighters will stretch lines to the location of the fire, event or emergency.

“We will fight fires from a hose line, not necessarily a fire truck,” said Watkinson. “The firefighters and I have been testing this theory. We can stretch upwards of 300 feet and still make entry into the buildings.”

Watkinson said he is confident the concept will work, and may even provide better protection, considering the difficulty they would have trying to get a truck through the Saturday morning crowds in any case.

“There is so many people and there is so many vendors that have zigzagged, even when they are not supposed to, I am more confident this new model is better than even if we had a lane, just because of the people in the way,” said Watkinson.

With the new infrastructure, it adds a lot of protection, just through the hydrant systems. So we are going to work with the DPA and the market to set up staging locations for our fire trucks on the cross streets, Nanaimo and Westminster. “I am confident this meets the needs of the community and the businesses and merchants down there.”

Another part of the plan will be to relocate firefighters from the Dawson Avenue firehall and equipment to the downtown hall on Saturday mornings. Watkinson said that people in the south side of Penticton shouldn’t be concerned, that resources are constantly shifting.

“We move our resources around the city as required, as staffing levels go up or down, as a piece of equipment goes out of service or needs repair,” said Watkinson, adding that mitigating risk is another factor, and the market is considered high risk. “We still have a very good response time to that area, so I am not concerned it will be outside of any code requirements.”

“On a perfect day, we have eight guys on shift, four here and four there (Dawson Hall). A lot of times we are out on calls or we are moving around the city, so we are constantly mitigating that risk,” said Watkinson. “Knowing that we have a high risk at that time of day downtown, it is important that we staff it appropriately.”