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St. Albert breaks ground on new fire hall

The layout and design will give emergency service personnel who spend much of their lives on active duty a “home away from home experience."

In about a year, emergency service personnel and elected officials will gather to celebrate the grand opening of St. Albert’s newest fire station. 

The city kicked off construction of Fire Hall #1's rebuild on Oct. 27 at 20 Gate Avenue with a groundbreaking ceremony. The new hall will replace the current 58-year-old Fire Hall #1 at 18 Sir Winston Churchill Ave. The new location used to house the Village Transit Station before Nakî Transit Centre and Park and Ride opened in August.

The long-awaited new facility will give St. Albert’s fire services team the ability to keep up with the city’s current needs, and improve response times to the south and southeast parts of the city. It will also be the new home for the city’s emergency operations centre.

Bernd Gretzinger, director of emergency services and fire chief for St. Albert, said he was excited to see the project reach the construction phase. 

“Breaking ground on this project signifies our commitment to St. Albert residents, and how we continue to grow throughout the city and within emergency services,” Gretzinger said. 

“Being able to respond to a fire and other emergencies as quickly and safely as possible is our number one priority. The reconstruction of Fire Hall #1 allows us to continue this work.” 

The $14-million project will be two storeys tall, with 16 dorms and four bays, allowing for an aerial fire truck to service the downtown core. It will house firefighters and medics, fire service officers, emergency management personnel and training personnel. Construction is expected to be completed in December 2021.

Gretzinger said the design will allow for training and fire prevention programs. Having emergency management and paramedics in the building as well will allow fire crews to operate more efficiently.

Of the total cost, $11 million will come from the provincial municipal sustainability initiative (MSI) grant.

Pawel Balas, senior associate with Stantec, said the fire hall won’t look like your typical build. The layout and design will give emergency service personnel who spend much of their lives on active duty a “home away from home experience,” Balas said.

He pointed to recent studies illustrating how stressful the jobs of first responders and firefighters can be.

According to a Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 2017 study, public safety personnel, including firefighters and paramedics, are at higher risk of developing mental disorders than the general public.   

“We hope the building will serve the firefighters very well, not only from technical aspects, but you will enjoy it on a daily basis,” Balas said. 

The project is pursuing LEED v4 certification, one of the city's first, according to Stantec. LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a globally recognized green building rating system that monitors a building's ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the project's construction to operations. An electric vehicle charging station will also be installed to promote electronic vehicle use. 

As for energy efficiency, the new fire hall will conserve 30 per cent of the energy it uses, according to Stantec. This is done through the use of a condensing boiler system to improve heat transfer, adding a heat recovery system, demand-controlled ventilation system, triple glazed windows and LED lights. 

Mayor Cathy Heron said seeing the project reach the groundbreaking stage is exciting. 

"There have been many motions over the last years to delay this, trying to be fiscally responsible, but there just came a point that Fire Hall 1 was just not serving our needs," Heron said.

"I really think this is an exciting time for St. Albert and for council, so we're looking forward to seeing the construction progress."

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