THE LEDGER

City Plans for a New Fire Station

By Joy Cochran
The Ledger
joy.cochran@theledger.com

WINTER HAVEN -- Fire Chief Tony Jackson dreams of the day his staff responds to fire calls from a new fire station.

And since the city recently accepted about an acre of surplus property from the Department of Transportation, Jackson's dream could be closer to becoming a reality.

City officials would like to see a new fire station built at U.S. 17 and Third Street Southwest, on property where a tire store and Denny's restaurant were once located before U.S. 17 was recently realigned. They have yet to acquire the Denny's property and property owned by the Bowen Brothers Fruit Co. that will be needed for the project.

"I particularly like the location from a response time frame," Jackson said. "You will have quick response to all parts of the city from U.S. 17."

No timeline is set for constructing the new facility and it could take a few years to complete, said Mike McMahon, the city's redevelopment director.

"We're only in the initial planning stages," he said. "We just know there's a need for a new fire station."

No matter where it's built, construction should take about 18 months, Jackson said.

The city's fire station is in one half of a building constructed in 1965.

The Fire Department used to share the building with the Police Department, which recently left for new digs on North Lake Silver Drive.

A new fire station should cost about half as much as the new $5.8 million facility the Police Department moved into earlier this month.

Jackson estimates the cost will be about $2.7 million.

A fire station also needs about half the property and space as the police station.

About 11/2 acres will be needed to build a 17,000-square-foot fire facility, Jackson said.

Several issues have contributed to the need for a new fire station, Jackson said.

The city needs more room to meet a new state law that requires at least four firefighters respond to fire calls. Winter Haven's station cannot accommodate the additional employees the department will need to hire.

"It's already law, but they give you some flexibility to accomplish it," Jackson said. "I've submitted a plan that will allow us to incrementally hire firefighters until we get to the level we're supposed to be." The department has 57 employees at the main fire station and two substations, he said.

Another problem is that equipment that should be stored indoors often has to be parked outside the station, Jackson said.

Doing the work themselves, firefighters renovated the old facility about two years ago. But there's still not enough space for proper training or equipment storage, Jackson said.

Training should take place daily, Jackson said.

"Right now we're doing makeshift training," he said. "In the world we have today, there's no such thing as a firefighter standing around doing nothing."

Joy Cochran can be reached at joy.cochran@theledger.com or 863-401-6970.