Monday, March 27, 2023

Build or renovate the old? Increased calls, aging building prompt council to consider 2nd fire station

(WYDaily/File photo)
(WYDaily/File photo)

When a Williamsburg resident calls for an ambulance, minutes can feel like hours.

An ever-increasing number of emergency calls and an aging fire station has caused City Council and city staff to evaluate ways to better their emergency response throughout the city — and shave off those crucial minutes in their response time.

City Manager Andrew Trivette presented emergency response data, possible locations for a second station and potential renovation plans during the City Council work session Monday night.

The idea of a second fire station was prompted by the need to renovate the existing station, which was built in 1978.

Based on a study conducted by a hired consultant, Trivette has proposed several options for improving fire-rescue operations, including renovating the existing fire station on Lafayette Street, building a new second fire station, or a combination of both.

City staff recommended renovating the existing station and designating a location for a future second station.

During the meeting, council was hung on whether to prioritize building a second fire station or renovate the existing one first — or whether to build a second at all.

“We all think that we need more fire facilities,” Mayor Paul Freiling said.

The agenda for the work session did not require action on the fire station matter, just a consensus from council to staff on how to proceed.

By the end of the meeting, council asked staff to evaluate potential parcels for a second fire station, but did not commit to a particular process or plan.

“The decision between one or two stations is a difficult decision to make because both have pros and cons,” Trivette said.

Improving response

In 2018, city firefighters responded to 4,605 emergency calls, nearly 500 calls more than 2017 and more than 1,600 more than 2005.

Fire Chief Pat Dent said an increasing number of special events has also increased the strain on the existing one-station system.

Despite a continually rising number of calls, the goal remains the same: a four-minute response time for the first unit on-scene in a majority of the city, and less than eight minutes for all city areas.

While the city meets the National Fire Protection Agency’s benchmarks for a department with paid staff — city emergency personnel reach 66 percent of city addresses within the eight-minute response time — Trivette said there are still some areas of the city that are not served as well as they could be.

“We’re beating the standards in most regards,” Trivette said.

That area includes the north end of the city along Richmond Road, where the response time averages about 10 minutes, according to a presentation from the work session.

Trivette said another station could be placed on the former Super 8 motel property on Richmond Road, or on Monticello Avenue, which would improve response times in most of the city.

Dent added that having two fire stations would add redundancy to the system, meaning if a situation left one station unable to respond, the second station could still be used.

Dent also said regardless of where the fire station project goes, the fire department needs four new firefighter/medic positions and 3 new fire lieutenants, costing about $300,000 annually.

Dent said adding staff is “paramount,” and not having enough staff for the number of calls is a “retention issue.”

Trivette said the city’s fire department staffing is “not appropriate” under NFPA recommendations, but most fire departments across the country do not meet all recommendations.

Funding the project

The city began setting aside bonds for police and fire station renovations in late 2017, according to meeting documents.

The “General Obligation Bonds” total $19,630,000, which included refunding some debt and $13.1 million for construction, documents show.

The existing fire station was built in 1978 and could use some updates and an increase in square footage, Trivette said. One renovation plan recommends adding more than 20,000 square feet to the existing 12,215 square feet.

Meeting documents show expected costs for renovating the single station would be around $15 million, up from a $12 million estimate in 2017.

“We need to renovate the facility we have,” Freiling said, adding that the question remained whether it would be a minor or major renovation.

Dent said there are some renovations “we would need to do,” such as fixing the station’s roof, addressing plumbing issues and more.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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