Hundreds of Hay River residents descended upon the new community fire and emergency medical services (EMS) hall Friday to celebrate the grand opening of the long-anticipated facility.
Firefighters, who operate jointly as EMS crew, officially moved into the new hall in late January, but held off celebrations until last week to welcome the community to tour the new digs and join them for a barbecue.
A crowd of around 400 came out for the event, which included speeches by Mayor Andrew Cassidy, Fire Chief Ross Potter and local MLAs Robert Bouchard and Jane Groenewegen, the latter presenting a service merit award to the Hay River Fire Department on behalf of Robert McLeod, minister of Municipal and Community Affairs.
“It was a great turn out – the biggest event we’ve had in some time,” Potter said.
The new hall has been in the works for the past 15 years with several “false starts,” but it wasn’t until 2006 when the 40 year-old hall was condemned that plans started forming to relocate, he said.
While previously emergency vehicles were spread out across two locations in town, the new hall – located just across the street from the old hall – is now large enough to fit 10 vehicles, which means almost all of the emergency vehicles are under one roof.
“Before we had trucks in new town and trucks in old town, which interfered with response time, particularly with ambulance highway rescue and also for servicing the corridor and old town area,” Potter said. “Getting all the trucks into one hall is a huge benefit.”
The facility was built with federal and territorial funds totalling $6.1 million and is now up to snuff to meet national codes for a post-disaster facility, meaning it is equipped to aid residents when faced with larger local emergencies such as fires, flooding and earthquakes.
For the EMS and fire crew – all of whom are community volunteers, save for Potter – having a new hall has lifted the team’s collective spirits, the fire chief said.
“Morale is always relatively high in my department, but it’s really peaked now. The guys feel really appreciated,” Potter said.
The ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday welcomed all past and present emergency and fire crew members to join the celebration.
Currently, around 30 volunteers operate the facility. Since the fire hall was established in 1950, exactly 341 members have served on the crew, Potter said.
Over the past 37 years that he has served in Hay River, of which the last 12 and a half have been served on and off as fire chief, the department has never really struggled to find recruits, Potter said.
Typically they are able to draw a good number of outgoing individuals who are willing to put in time and effort to give back to the community, he said.