Tampa Tribune

Big, Flexible Fire Station Looks To Future

By CANDACE J. SAMOLINSKI csamolinski@tampatrib.com
Published: Aug 3, 2003


DADE CITY - On Aug. 11, Centennial Road residents and those in surrounding communities will welcome a new neighbor.
Fire Station No. 32 is a grand structure by firehouse standards, said Tony Lopinto, director of Pasco County Emergency Services. Construction is wrapping up. Once finished, it will be the county's largest station.

The station, which cost roughly $800,000 to build, was designed with the future in mind, Lopinto said.

``It's a beautiful station, but there are no frills,'' he said. ``It's big and it's going to give us the additional room we need.''

The fact that it's opening nearly three months ahead of schedule is another thing that makes it special, Lopinto said. The last two stations built in Wesley Chapel and Hudson were mired in construction troubles. County officials were at odds with the contractor, and the projects were delayed by eight months.

``We were initially anticipating opening by Oct. 1,'' Lopinto said about the Centennial Road station. ``By opening Aug. 11, we will be in place when school starts.''


Bigger, More Flexible Station

Sleeping quarters in traditional stations usually consist of seven bedrooms, but this station has nine. That's one of many differences inside the brick facade that was crafted to mirror the architecture of existing structures.

The station was designed with the flexibility and space to grow as the community's population increases, Lopinto said. It has three bays to house emergency vehicles, instead of the typical two.

The rural nature of the area dictated the need to buy equipment to protect property owners who might not live near a fire hydrant. The county opted to purchase a 3,000 gallon tanker instead of the usual 1,500 gallon vehicle.

``When you arrive on the scene [of a fire], the first few minutes really set the tone for how the situation will be handled,'' Lopinto said. ``If you have the manpower in place, you have to have the apparatus to do the job.''

A brush truck with additional cabinet space also was purchased and will allow for storage of medical supplies. Brush trucks normally don't carry those supplies. But having them onboard allows the truck to double as a rescue unit, if needed, Lopinto said.

``This way, it can back up our engine or handle a medical call if the rescue is out on something else,'' he said.

The ambulance that is being built for this station won't be ready by the time it opens. A reserve unit will operate in its place for the time being.

The county is hiring 20 firefighters to be split between this station and Fire Station No. 24 on Florida Avenue in Dade City, Lopinto said. Another seven people will be hired to staff the ambulance at No. 32.


Changes To Fire Service

Part of the driving force behind building the station on Centennial Road was the county's decision to resume control of providing fire services in the unincorporated areas around Dade City and Zephyrhills. The county's longstanding contracts with the Dade City and Zephyrhills fire departments end Oct. 1.

Commissioners authorized County Administrator John Gallagher to negotiate new contracts that will create a two-year transition period for those departments. Officials in both cities were concerned the loss of payments from the county - $431,855 for Zephyrhills and $583,157 for Dade City over the next fiscal year - would hurt their fire departments. The transition period would continue some payments to each city through fiscal 2005.

Getting the county ready to assume full responsibility of these areas is something Lopinto and Assistant County Administrator Dan Johnson have spent countless hours discussing. Building the Centennial Road station was a major part of their plan.

``As time goes on, I feel confident that having three bays at this station will allow us to meet the needs without building another station immediately,'' Lopinto said. ``However, if response times become the problem, this won't solve it.''


Reporter Candace J. Samolinski can be reached at (813) 948-4215.