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Fire departments build stations to cut response times


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Five new fire stations have been built across the county in the past five years with the goal of getting to calls from growing areas of the community faster and updating aging facilities.

Johnson County’s population has more than doubled in the past 40 years, and local fire chiefs say that growth has changed where they are getting calls for fires, traffic accidents and emergency medical runs. Fire stations that had been built decades ago also were outdated, and some no longer were located near where most residents live.

Officials at White River Township, Franklin, Amity and Bargersville departments decided that new stations would be the best way to address these issues.

Over the past five years, those departments spent more than $8.5 million building fire stations. The new stations were paid for with loans, through savings and with money from special taxing districts. The loan for one station has been paid off, another will be in the next two years, and one is being paid off slowly. The goal was to not significantly raise taxes with a higher debt payment, fire officials said.

Four of the stations were built on new sites, and each location was chosen to reduce response times to areas of recent growth.

White River Township Station 51 at State Road 135 and Olive Branch Road was opened in 2007, moving east from the former location on Runyon Road, which was about 60 years old.

The former station lacked space to house all of the staff on a daily basis, Fire Chief Jeremy Pell said.

In addition, the new station is closer to apartment complexes and shops in the area and has helped the station cut about 45 seconds off response times to most locations, he said.

“Initially that doesn’t sound like a huge improvement, but fire doubles in size every minute; and we go on a lot of heart attack and stroke (runs), and a minute or two can be a game changer,” Pell said.

“The biggest factor is we’re just trying to keep up with the community, and the growth of the community has outpaced the growth of the fire departments.”

Bargersville also has been able to respond to calls more quickly since the fire department moved to a new station on State Road 135 in November. Response times have been reduced or remained the same since the station moved out of the downtown, Fire Chief Jason Ramey said.

The new site had space to build a bigger station. Beds at the old station were crammed into office spaces because there wasn’t enough bedroom space for on-duty firefighters. The new station also is closer to growing residential and commercial areas along State Road 135, reducing response times, Ramey said.

“We can actually reach some of those areas faster even though we’re going farther distance. We used to have to jog through town to get to 135,” he said.

‘In the perfect position’

In Franklin, stations in new locations allow fire trucks and ambulances to immediately get onto highways without having to navigate narrower city streets.

Station 23 near U.S. 31 offers better service to residential areas west of the highway and on the north side of the city. Station 22, off State Road 44 near Interstate 65, replaced the 50-year-old station at Hamilton Avenue and Forsythe Street and covers the east side and growing tech park.

“I think we’re in the perfect position. I think the city is going to fill in, the tech park, the east side if it continues to grow. Really all the residential on the west side of (U.S.) 31 will fill in, and we’ll just be addressing the volume of calls,” Franklin Fire Chief John Henderson said.

Franklin paid for two new fire stations without borrowing money when both were opened in 2010.

The $1.25 million price tag for Station 23 on the north side, off U.S. 31, was paid for out of the city savings account, which had a balance of about $2 million when the project was first being discussed in 2006.

Station 22 was built using $1.7 million in tax money collected from a special taxing district set up for the former Best Buy distribution center. The money came from part of a $4 million balance in the fund when city officials reworked the agreement that diverted property tax dollars into a separate fund for improvements at the site.

The other three departments borrowed money to build their stations; but by paying off old debt or stretching out a loan over a long term, they were able to do so without a significant tax increase, fire officials said.

‘More like a fire station’

White River Township and Bargersville obtained short-term loans for the buildings and were able to take out new loans as old debt was paid off in order to keep tax rates the same. While rates likely would have decreased without the loans for the stations, neither department had to significantly increase taxes by building a new station.

“Every three years, if we replace those (loans), that gives us capital funds to replace equipment. None of this has significantly increased the tax rate,” Ramey said.

White River built its new station in 2007 and had paid off the loan by 2011, Pell said. The new Bargersville department opened at the end of 2012, and the debt should be paid off by 2015, Ramey said.

Payments on a short-term loan would have been too much to handle for the smaller Amity fire department, so it decided to stretch a loan over 40 years to pay for its new station, which opened in 2012.

Amity, which applied for grants but was turned down, instead borrowed $740,000 in a low-interest loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The long-term loan allows the department to make small payments every year that were able to fit into the budget without increasing taxes, Fire Chief Jackie Brockman said.

The loan helped Amity upgrade its 40-year-old station, which was infested with mold following the 2008 flood.

The new Amity station, built last year on the same site as the old building, which was demolished, replaced a pole barn with several additions. The bays were too small for modern engines, and trucks often hit the back wall while trying to get in far enough to clear the garage door.

“It’s more like a fire station,” Brockman said. “It’s not like a pole barn.”

About the stations

Amity

Location: 3247 S. County Road 550E, Amity

Opened: August

Cost: $740,000

Borrowed: $740,000 in a 40-year, low-interest loan

Equipment/staff: Four vehicles, 29 firefighters

Department coverage: 36 square miles, 7,500 people

Franklin Station 22

Location: 1800 Thornburg Lane, Franklin

Opened: February 2011

Cost: $1.7 million

Borrowed: No borrowing; construction costs were paid for with money from a special taxing district and agreement to release money from $4 million collected for improvements to the former Best Buy distribution center.

Equipment/staff: Two vehicles, five firefighters

Department coverage: 11.3 square miles, 25,000 people

Franklin Station 23

Location: 1150 Sloan Drive, Franklin

Opened: February 2010

Cost: $1.25 million

Borrowed: No borrowing, construction costs were paid for out of tax dollars in city savings.

Equipment/staff: Two vehicles, five firefighters

Department coverage: 11.3 square miles, 25,000 people

White River

Township Station 51

Location: 3016 W. Olive Branch Road, Greenwood

Opened: August 2007

Cost: $2.85 million

Borrowed: $3 million, loan is paid off.

Equipment/staff: Five vehicles, nine firefighters

Department coverage: 26 square miles, 35,000 people

Bargersville Station 201

Location: 3991 State Road 135, Bargersville

Opened: November

Cost: $2.1 million

Borrowed: $2.7 million. Will be paid off in 2015

Equipment/staff: Five vehicles, 11 firefighters

Department coverage: 62 square miles, 25,000 people

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