Graham Ave. ‘nuisance fires’ trying fire department’s patience

    Jennifer Flewelling lives on Tweedsmuir Street just at the bottom of Graham Avenue. As a fourth-year St. Thomas University student, she knew Graham’s reputation long before she moved in on Aug. 28. But she still didn’t think she’d be calling 911 for a fire in the street in her first weeks in the neighbourhood.

    “It seems like every night since we’ve moved in, there’s been at least something happening on that street,” said Flewelling. “Even if it’s not a fire, you still see people out there, yelling or just being belligerent and drunk.”

    Since she’s moved in, Flewelling has seen two fires on Graham Avenue. She said she sees people – presumably students – passing through and burning trash in the middle of the street. When students moved in for the year, old furniture or appliances were left on the curb, ripe for the burning. Flewelling said roving students drag out the trash and light it up for a good time. She called 911 when she heard some alarming “pops” coming from one particularly rowdy blaze.

    “When I called 911, they were like, ‘Yeah, we know. We’re on the way.’ And they just rolled up real slow,” said Flewelling. “It’s like there’s no urgency to it anymore. It’s funny.”

    These fires are what David McKinley, the assistant deputy fire chief of the Fredericton Fire Department, calls “nuisance fires” – they’re probably not dangerous, but they’re a pain to deal with. When the department gets four calls for such fires in two nights, like on Sept. 2 and 3 when they were busy extinguishing couches and trash cans in the middle of the night, McKinley said he can’t help feeling his time is being wasted.

    “We don’t mind being deployed on something we need to be deployed on. That’s no problem,” said McKinley. “But when we have a nuisance call it takes us away from where we need to be in the event of an actual emergency.”

    McKinley said Graham Avenue seems to attract these nuisances more than other areas. Now, the fire department takes preventative measures; if there’s trash on Graham, they soak it down just in case. The department has even teamed up with the universities and UNB Security & Traffic to create a dumpster program to help students easily get rid of their trash before someone lights it up. They’ve had this program for three years and McKinley said initiatives like this are lowering the number of calls they’re getting to Graham.

    “We were up to about 25 fires a year,” said McKinley. “We’re down to under ten a year now. Although we did have four in two nights… we’ve had none since.”

    Despite the commotion, Flewelling doesn’t mind her new neighbourhood. She was used to the quiet of her previous home, but she says she’s already gotten used to the area. With Graham Avenue, a little rowdiness comes with the territory.

    “Everybody knows that’s a student place,” said Flewelling. “There’s behaviour that’s acceptable on Graham that’s not acceptable on other streets.”


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