WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Wilmington's Fire Department is preparing for a historic change: the closing of four fire stations and the replacement of just two of those facilities; along with a major redeployment of staff and equipment.
The new deployment plan includes the shut down of:
• Station 3 at 3933 Princess Place Drive
• Station 5 at 1502 Wellington Avenue
• Station 6 at 3939 Carolina Beach Road and
• Station 4 at 310 Wallace Drive
Taking their place will be two new state-of-the-art fire stations located on new plots of land. One on Cinema Drive on two parcels purchased at a combined $712,000. The other on Shipyard Boulevard, purchased for $355,000.
Fire administration presented this new deployment plan to City Council on June 6, 2011 and the changes have been in motion ever since. While the proposal does not include any reduction in personnel, vocal members within the department are pushing back now.
Recently, off-duty teams have gone door-to-door in affected neighborhoods handing out fliers, asking residents to contact City Council if they have concerns.
The need for change was initiated by a 2008 facility study conducted by Stewart Cooper Newell, intended to determine whether or not several fire stations met the department's needs both at present and in the future.
Problems were found at each site including inadequate interior space, old HVAC systems, limited parking, narrow truck bays and failure to meet current ADA and storm water standards and codes.
The report offered multiple solutions for each station at different price points ranging from interior renovation of the current facilities to help bring them up to standard, all the way to purchasing new plots of land and rebuilding the fire stations elsewhere.
After considering the feedback, WFD Chief Buddy Martinette ultimately decided to reconfigure the deployment of the station's trucks and manpower entirely, instead of addressing specific issues at each individual station.
This includes a four-station shut down after moving Station 4's company into Station 8, combining Stations 5 & 6 into a new facility on Shipyard Boulevard and moving Station 3 into a new facility on Cinema Drive.
His prerogative, however, has not been embraced by his entire department. Although the plan is well underway firefighters have started flier campaigns and social media initiatives (https://www.facebook.com/WFDsaferwilmington) in protest, hoping to garner public support against the changes.
The outspoken firefighters believe that rather than building new facilities, the department should instead renovate and/or rebuild stations on the city-owned property they currently sit on. They feel this is the most cost-effective and performance-preserving approach.
Chief Martinette counters that renovating is a "BandAid approach" that will require ongoing and unforeseen costs associated with maintaining aging structures. He adds that modern storm water standards eliminate the possibility of using the current plots of land.
The construction budget for each fire station is between $2.5 and $3 million. Station 3 is predicted to be more expensive as the facility is slated to be larger. Formal construction bids have yet to come back to the City, but are expected by June 19th.
Some firefighters argue that based on the construction drawings, achieving the new Station 3's $2.5-3 million dollar budget is highly unlikely at an estimated 10,000 square feet.
The issue over money aside, it's the impact to service quality that some firefighters are most concerned about. The team that shared their frustrations with WECT has also been going door-to-door in the Winter Park and Echo Farm's neighborhoods handing out fliers boldly titled: "Your Fire Station Is Closing!"
According to fire administration, both historical and GIS data was used to assess call volume and response time. Chief Martinette says while trucks currently have a 4:00 minute travel time 88-percent of the time, his plan will provide a 4:30 travel time at 90-percent of the time.
He argues that the 30 second addition to some areas will not put the public at additional risk during emergencies.
Firefighters in opposition point to the 4:00 minute travel time the National Fire Protection Association considers the national standard. They doubt the promise of an emergency vehicle being able to meet even a 4:30 travel time if it must turn out onto traffic-heavy roads like Shipyard Blvd, Carolina Beach Road, Market Street and College Road.
The Commission on Fire Accreditation International recently awarded the Wilmington Fire Department with accreditation after a lengthy review process.
The Commission explained that the WFD's accreditation was based on how their systems currently operate. The department will have to submit yearly data to show they are maintaining their standards.
It will be another five years before the WFD is up for accreditation renewal, at which time the scope of the change's impact will be better known.
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