Firewise Consulting Report, December 2015
HIRF Committee Report, March 2017
Fire Hall Relocation - Benefits to Administration Report, June 2017
Frequently Asked Questions
What is HIRF?
High Intensity Residential Fire (HIRF) refers to rules set out by the Government of Alberta as part of the province’s building and fire codes that outline how houses are to be built. Several high intensity residential fires which occurred in the past prompted these changes to the Alberta Building Code, requiring a 10-minute response time by fire departments. If that 10 minute window is not able to be met 90% of the time, builders and developers have to make changes to setbacks, design features such as exterior coverings, no windows between houses, and increased space between homes.
Why is the Town considering building a new Emergency Services Building?
In the very simplest of terms, a new Emergency Services Building built in a central location would allow the Fire Department to reach the majority of fires within a 10-minutes response time. Reaching a fire within 10 minutes would eliminate the High Intensity Residential Fire (HIRF) requirements placed on developers and builders, thereby reducing housing costs in Taber.
What does the cost of housing have to do with building a new Emergency Services Building?
HIRF requires a fire department to be on scene and flowing water in under 10 minutes for 90% of their calls. This time includes the time for a call to 911. If the Fire Department can’t make that 10-minute window, HIRF places specific requirements on builders to reduce the chance of residential fires moving from one home to another. These requirements can include sprinkler systems, no side-windows, larger setbacks between houses, etc. These specifications can cost a lot of money which is ultimately passed on to the homebuyer. Sprinkler systems alone can cost around $10,000 for a moderate sized house, which is an additional $10k that can be added to the price of the house. Another common way to address HIRF is by increasing the distance between houses, creating larger lot sizes. A typical setback for a home is 4 feet, but in order to meet HIRF standards, 8 feet is necessary. These setbacks create higher costs in residential developments. For every foot of development, the developer has to build infrastructure such as sidewalks, curbs, asphalt, water pipes, and sanitation pipes, all of which costs approximately $1,800 per foot. Those developments then become infrastructure the Town must maintain in perpetuity, also increasing costs. So the larger the setbacks, the higher the cost. The $1,800 cost per foot on an 8 foot setback will cost the developer and Town approximately $14,400 per home, a cost which is then passed on to the homebuyer.
Why can’t we just put sprinklers in houses to lower the HIRF requirements?
While sprinklers are one way that builders can meet HIRF requirements, they are expensive for builders to put in. At minimum, the sprinklers themselves cost $10,000 for a moderately sized home. The designs of homes are limited by the requirements of HIRF. As well, it has not been conclusively decided by insurance companies if the benefits of sprinkler systems outweigh the risks. While they may help extinguish fires, water damage is also possible due to potential leaks of the system in a home, both of which are liabilities to insurance companies.
Why doesn’t Council just force houses to be built farther apart? Why are houses built so closely together?
The Town of Taber owns land that is zoned for residential use. However, land is a finite resource that needs to be managed carefully to ensure Taber has enough land to grow in the future. If Council were to force houses to be built farther apart, the lot sizes would be larger, decreasing the amount of land we have in reserve for the future, as well as increasing lot size costs. These larger lots are estimated to cost around $14,400 per lot, which is then passed on to the homebuyer. The increased amounts of infrastructure that is built with larger lots is then maintained by the Town, which is an additional cost the taxpayers pay for. The Town and Council have to strike a balance between making our land affordable and attractive to builders and homebuyers, as well as making sure that lot sizes are sustainable for the future.
Does Taber need a new Emergency Services Building?
It depends on how you look at it. The Town of Taber can continue to work with the current Emergency Services Building. Fires would still be extinguished, and builders would still build houses in Taber. However, this comes at the cost of our competitiveness with other municipalities as well as resident safety. It also comes at the cost of a more diverse tax base to lower the burden on residents and creating economic growth for Taber. A new Emergency Services Building would be an investment in the Town’s future: there would be more housing options for a wider range of people, businesses would locate to Taber because there would be a wide variety of home prices to support a stable work force, more businesses in Town would mean taxes would be more evenly distributed and not just at the expense of homeowners, and above all, the safety of residents would increase with a decrease in response times.
What does any of this have to do with trying to attract businesses to Taber?
Businesses want to base themselves in a location that provides the most access to both customers and staff. Taber is centrally located between two cities, so customer attraction is not a problem here. In Taber, the problem lies in how businesses can retain their staff. If an employee cannot afford a home near their place of work, then it is hard for the business to keep their staff for very long, increasing their overhead costs in recruitment and wages. Or if homes are more affordable in neighbouring communities, people will choose not to locate in Taber, but in the surrounding areas. Affordable houses will attract a wide range of citizens: young families, young people just starting their careers, seniors looking for work, etc. With this wide range of people able to afford to live in Taber, businesses will be more attracted to our town as a place to set up shop.
Are businesses really that worried about housing?
The Town of Taber has already lost out on the opportunity to attract one large industry: Cavendish Farms. This business specifically stated that the lack of affordable housing to support a stable work force was a major contributing factor as to why Taber was not selected as their location for operations. The Town of Taber needs to attract businesses like Cavendish Farms and other large industries to stay competitive and provide means of employment for our citizens.
Why can’t the Fire Department meet the 10 minute response time with its current location?
The Taber Fire Department is made up of volunteers. When a fire call is dispatched, the volunteers have to travel from their homes to the Emergency Services Building to respond. The Emergency Services Building is located in the eastern portion of Taber. Most of Taber’s residential areas are located in the western part of town. Thus, volunteers have to travel from one end of town to the exact opposite, increasing the time it takes to respond to a fire. When responding to a call, volunteers still have to obey all traffic laws. With the number of playground zones and stop signs between a firefighter’s house and the fire Hall, it makes it very difficult for the Fire Department to make it to a fire within 10 minutes.
Where did the Town come up with the proposed $2.5 million to build a new Emergency Services Building?
After discussions with a number of municipalities in Alberta who have gone through similar situations, the Town of Taber came up with $2.5 million as the figure for a new Emergency Services Building. Some of these municipalities included Hanna, Smoky River, and Brooks.
With the Taber Fire Department no longer responding in the MD of Taber or Barnwell, do we really get the volume of calls to justify a new Emergency Services Building?
The number of calls the Taber Fire Department responded to in Barnwell and the MD were relatively low. Most of the Department’s calls still come from within Taber itself. For comparison purposes, January to June 2016 saw 100 total calls, whereas the same period of time in 2017 has seen 154 calls.
How will the new Emergency Services Building be paid for?
The estate of William Ferguson left $2.4 million dollars to the Town of Taber. Council passed a resolution to allocate $1.5 million of the estate toward the building of a new Emergency Services Building. Other funds, such as the use of taxpayer dollars or support from the local Developers and Contractors or grants could be utilized to make up the difference.
Where would the new Emergency Services Building be built?
Council is still discussing the different possibilities, but no decision has been made.
What will happen to the old Emergency Services Building?
The Recreation Department (the portion responsible for Parks) and the Public Works Department will take over the old building if a new one is constructed. They will be able to store equipment that was previously left outside or in non-heated shelters. Administrative staff will also have access to additional work spaces with the offices already in the building.
I still have questions about this situation. Who do I contact?
For information on Council’s decisions, you can speak to any of your Councillors via their emails, which can be found at taber.ca under “Your Government.” If you are looking for specific information that has not been addressed above, please contact the Town at 403-223-5500 or