New Perry fire station a firefighter’s dream, chief says

bpurser@macon.comJune 16, 2013 

PERRY -- For Fire Chief Joel Gray, the Davis Farms Fire station is a beauty -- a firefighter’s dream tailored for specific needs and functions.

The $1.2 million fire station, the city’s second, is now up and operational. Located at 105 Commodore Road off Houston Lake Road near Langston Road, the new station is staffed 24/7 by three firefighters and serves the east end of the city. It has one engine truck.

“It improves our response time without a doubt,” Gray said.

The response time from headquarters on Washington Street was about nine to 11 minutes to the east end, Gray said. Now response times from the new station are expected to be about two-and-a-half to five minutes on most calls, he said.

Gray recalled the February 2011 fire at Houston Lake Apartment Community on South Houston Lake Road that ravaged several units. By the time the fire was reported to 911, dispatched and firefighters arrived on scene from headquarters, the fire had probably been raging at least 20 minutes, he said. The new station is 1.2 miles from the apartments.

The Wooden Eagle Plantation subdivision off Lake Joy Road just south of Sandefur Road is the farthest residential area to the north within the new fire station’s coverage area, Gray said.

Mossy Creek Middle School is at the northernmost point, while the easternmost point is at Ga. 247 and the Ga. 247 Spur, Gray said. The western and southern boundaries overlap with the coverage area of headquarters, he said.

ISO ratings

Another benefit of the new station won’t be realized immediately for nearby residents and property owners, Gray said. The goal is to bring down the Insurance Services Office fire protection rating used to determine insurance costs. The rating ranges from 1 to 10, with 1 being the best.

In Perry, the ISO rating is 5/9 for the main station’s coverage area, Gray said. The 5 applies to properties within a five-mile radius of the station. The city expects to improve that rating in the remainder of the coverage area as it works to upgrade hydrants to ISO standards, Gray said. Additional staffing also would improve the rating, he said.

The rating for the new station is 10, Gray said. The primary issue is inadequate staffing, he said.

The minimum required staffing by ISO is four firefighters per shift, Gray said. The city now has three firefighters per shift at both stations. Ideally, each station would have at least six firefighters per shift, he said. The three shifts are 24 hours on and 48 hours off.

Fee for fire service proposed

Although the fiscal 2014 budget does not include any additional firefighters, Perry City Council members are considering another way to fund additional personnel by implementing a fee for fire service, Gray said.

Mayor Jimmy Faircloth noted discussion of a “rooftop” fee to be charged to all property owners except those with vacant properties continues to be debated among council. If the property has a rooftop, the property owners would be responsible for the fee.

With a depressed housing market, Faircloth said he does not believe property tax revenue can offset the cost of providing additional firefighters that he said are needed. And the mayor noted he and other council members aren’t willing to raise property taxes to fund new firefighters.

However, charging a flat fee of $3 or $4 a month, for example, for fire service would generate added revenue that could be used toward hiring more firefighters, Faircloth said.

The fee would be similar to one charged for stormwater drainage that everyone pays, he said.

Faircloth said he believes the fee would be a more equitable source of funding because it would be paid by those benefiting from the service. However, property owners opposed to it don’t like the fee in part because it’s not tax deductible, Faircloth said.

Others see it as a new tax being “snuck in.” Faircloth said he’s not trying to sneak in anything but rather trying to figure out how to pay for much needed firefighters.

The new fire station was funded through a 2006 special purpose local option sales tax and a one-time fire protection impact fee incurred on new development. That impact fee ceased when the funds were raised. Also, the Davis family, the station’s namesake, donated the 7-acre property.

Station built for increased manpower, growth

Part of the beauty of the new station, Gray said, is that it was built with housing additional firefighters in mind as well as with the ability to expand as needed, Gray said. For example, the two-bay area that houses the fire engine is built where it can be expanded without disrupting utilities, he said.

The other part is the attention to detail in the planning of the 7,100-square-foot station. It’s literally a firefighter’s “dream house,” Gray said.

Features of the new station include:

• Twin beds that have three drawers underneath -- one for each shift -- to hold bed linens. This frees up each firefighter’s locker to hold only clothing and toiletries, Gray said.

• A slope downward in the hallway from the living quarters to the bay area to prevent water from entering the living quarters when washing trucks.

• A small gym area that will include equipment best suited for firefighters, Gray said. For example, firefighters will be expected to exercise on a stair-stepper wearing a 40-pound vest that is about the weight of turnout gear used in fighting fires. Firefighters may have to climb stairs or climb the ladder truck when fighting fires, Gray noted. Also, firefighters from headquarters will swap places with east station firefighters for an hour to allow all firefighters access to the equipment, Gray said.

• A small washroom area that includes a special machine designed for washing turnout gear. The machine cost $3,800, but the city was spending $6,000 to have the turnout gear cleaned to meet the minimal requirement of twice a year, Gray said. He said the machine will quickly pay for itself in cost savings.

• A turnout gear room with lockers on wheels designed specifically for the gear that’s made from thread that is sensitive to ultraviolet rays. The gear is hung up often wet and covered in soot after a call. The gear room is climate controlled to dry out the uniforms. The wheels on the lockers allow for ease in moving the gear to be washed and for clearing the room as needed, Gray said.

• Unique to the station, Gray said, is a pit in the bay area where the oil can be changed for fire vehicles and other repairs made. Most larger fire stations have free-standing bays designed only for repairs. Smaller departments send the vehicles out for repairs. Gray said he expects the pit to more than pay for itself in cost-savings by doing oil changes alone in house.

The floor plan for the station was based on one borrowed from a retired Florida fire chief who had used the model for five fire stations. Impressed, Gray said he asked if he could borrow the plans. Gray said the sloped floor from the living quarters to the bay area as well as the pit area for vehicle maintenance were his modifications.

Parrish Construction Group designed the facade.

“The floor plan is what we brought to the table,” Gray said.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

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