Fire station at Villages to debut

By Lisa Emmerich | Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted September 30, 2003

THE VILLAGES -- After almost five years of negotiation, a Villages-operated fire station will open Wednesday at midnight, to serve about 10,000 residents in the portion of Lady Lake that lies within the development.

"The station is going to make a difference in its strategic location," said Mike Tucker, The Villages' fire chief who pushed to establish the station.

People living in The Villages' portion of Lady Lake were seeing long emergency-response times and fire fees that rose every year, Tucker said.

"There are portions of The Villages that have had 10-minute response times just because of distance," he said. "Our new location is several miles closer."

The new station splits Lady Lake's fire service in two -- the old part of town served by the existing station, run by Lake County, and the new one next to the Paradise Center on the east side of The Villages.

Tucker said the new station will have four firefighters working at a time, three of them paramedics. He said he expected response times to average four minutes.

The quest for the station began in 1998, when the Village Center Community Development District, The Villages' government wing, offered to provide fire service to all of Lady Lake.

Town commissioners turned down the offer, while Sumter County commissioners approved a proposal for a Villages-operated fire department on that side of the development.

A year later, Marion County approved a first-response medical service within The Villages.

After another failed proposal, commissioners ultimately voted in February to approve the station.

"I didn't know if I was going to live long enough to see it," said Bill Hennings, 68, a Villages Homeowners Association board member who lives on the Lady Lake side of The Villages and helped spearhead the effort to build the station.

"It's really been a very long struggle. Every time the sky looked dark we would remind ourselves that we're in this to save lives. And now we're going to."

Villages residents will pay $56 a year for fire service on their tax bills for the next three years.

Residents of southern Lady Lake will pay $137 this year, with no guarantee that the fee won't increase next year.

Lisa Emmerich can be reached at lemmerich@orlandosentinel.com
or 352-742-5926.