5 new fire stations proposed
County copes with growth
By: KEVIN TURNER, News-Leader

Fire and rescue officials hope that five more full-time stations will help relieve pressure as residential growth takes off in Nassau County.

Thomas B. Kochheiser, Nassau County's Department of Emer-gency Services director, said all six county full-time stations have been stretched by increased calls. Earlier this year, he submitted a proposal for the new stations.

"The human resources are being physically taxed to the max. It's unbelievable for a county of this size," Kochheiser said.

In the east county, negotiations are under way with developers of nearby residential projects to build three fire stations to be manned and equipped with county dollars.

Nassau County Commissioners have directed county staff to research funding options. "We need to make sure that the citizens have the emergency response they deserve," said Commissioner Marianne Marshall. "What we've got to do is put funds aside for the future."

She said lack of funds may mean the new stations start with less than proposed. "I want to ensure the citizens are protected. I wanted to start with something. We may have to start with just rescue," she said.

Commissioners directed in April that a plan for five fire stations - three in the east county and two in the west county - be written into an ordinance. County Attorney Michael Mullin gave a proposed ordinance to commissioners last month.

The five stations are estimated to be built by 2008 and cost $6.7 million. Another $2 million of that cost would continue in personnel costs. Some costs would be relieved by developer-donated land and buildings.

"My proposal was based on what we felt the county could do and what the developers should do," Kochheiser said. "Some have agreed, others are still in negotiation."

The new fire stations would join six full time and 10 volunteer fire stations in the county today.

"This will meet today's demands. Will it five years from now? I don't know," Kochheiser said.

The first new fire station would be built near the midpoint of the proposed Amelia Concourse, a new road that will run between the intersection of Chester and A1A and County Road 107.

The three-bay station is estimated to cost $2.9 million, $100,000 of which is to be picked up by an area residential developer for construction costs. The rest of the money includes a staff of 18, rescue equipment, a ladder truck and fire engine.

"We would like to see a tower ladder truck due to the height of the new courthouse, apartment complexes and general community growth," Nassau County Fire Chief Chuck Cooper said.

The second planned station would be built at the intersection of A1A and Edwards Road, west of I-95. This station's estimated cost is $1.8 million, $100,000 of which is to be paid for by developers to construct the two-bay station. The county will pick up the tab for the remaining costs for 12 personnel, engineering, furnishings, rescue equipment and a tanker truck.

"We need the Edwards Road station and one of the other two in the east county right now," Kochheiser said.

The third station would be located on Chester Road north of A1A near Green Pine Road. Its estimated cost of $1.8 million includes 12 personnel, rescue equipment and a tanker truck for a three-bay station. Developers will contribute $100,000.

The two westside fire stations may be built on donated land.

The fourth station is a two-bay $1.5 million station planned for County Road 121 near River Road on the county's west side. The fifth station is planned for County Road 108 and Lessie Road and is also estimated to cost $1.5 million.

Commissioners have directed county staff to meet with the Northeast Florida Regional Planning Council to discuss funding for the fire stations. They were also to research existing fire/rescue impact fees.

Kochheiser said insurance costs were a factor in asking for more fire stations to keep up with burgeoning population. He said this would help deal with response and turnaround challenges for fire and rescue workers.

"You never hear them complain," Kochheiser said. "I've watched these folks make phenomenal (fire) stops. But what if we have two fires at the same time in the same area? They do a magnificent job, but they can only do so much."

Cooper noted that coverage gaps requires complex juggling, sometimes involving the county's mutual aid plans with Charlton and Camden counties in George, Baker and Duval counties in Florida.

"That's what has required us to move, rotating services from outlying areas to populated areas," Cooper said. "We are still providing services until the new stations can be built to help."
kturner@fbnewsleader.com