A major blaze that caused millions of dollars of damage to businesses just outside city limits is raising questions over how far Winnipeg fire services should extend.
On June 30, flames destroyed ReGen Composites and other businesses in a McGillivray Boulevard complex in the Rural Municipality of Macdonald, just a few hundred metres outside Winnipeg.
"The line on the map for those business owners... did matter that day. But they should be really looking to their (rural municipal) government and asking those questions there," said Coun. Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry), the chairperson of Winnipeg city council’s protection and community services committee.
While some businesses pay for Winnipeg fire services, no such agreement is in place for the RM of Macdonald or any other rural municipality, Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service spokesperson Kristin Cuma said in an emailed statement.
Cuma added that WFPS does have service agreements with three out-of-town businesses, including Border Chemical, an MPI Compound (on Plessis Road) and Husky Energy/Pounder Emulsions.
To ensure Winnipeg has the capacity and resources to battle its own blazes, any new potential deals with outside municipalities must be initiated, and fully funded, by the communities that want them, Rollins said.
The councillor said she supports such agreements, provided the city has enough resources available and the other governments cover the costs.
"I want to see (that collaboration) happen (but) my duty is to Winnipeg first," she said.
City records show the RM of Macdonald and city have discussed a fire service sharing agreement for more than a year. Cuma said the city must complete other work to ensure resources are in place to support the deal before it can be finalized, including demolition of the Windsor Park station, allowing for the transfer of an engine to Waverley West.
Work on the demolition could begin as early as next year, she wrote.
On June 30, a Winnipeg fire crew was initially dispatched to the McGillivray Boulevard blaze at 1:22 p.m. but the response was cancelled after a provincial 911 communications centre confirmed the fire was located in Macdonald, and its fire department was then dispatched.
Some business owners believe the RM crew didn’t make it to the scene until about 1:50 p.m. However, RM of Macdonald Fire Chief Mike Siemens said a crew was dispatched at 1:21 p.m. and arrived "quite a bit" earlier than that. He declined to note an exact time or offer further comment Tuesday.
After 911 calls continued to come in, a WFPS executive decided at 2:03 p.m. to send in help.
Rollins said WFPS must devote its resources to combat local fires first and the decision to cancel the first service call followed dispatch advice. She said another government must ask for Winnipeg’s help to extinguish a fire, since it must pay for that support.
"They have to ask for us to come in because we start charging them the moment we are called," she said.
ReGen Composites owner Prakash Gowdar, a former Winnipeg firefighter, urged the two local governments to do all they can to enhance fire protection now, deeming the McGillivray response time "just not acceptable."
For example, Gowdar said Winnipeg crews called to a major fire should at least visually assess the scene before cancelling a call, something he believes should have occurred June 30.
"It’s just a big blunder… there were so many mistakes made," he said.
Gowdar believes businesses and residents in the RM should also be warned to expect longer response times when a fire occurs.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.