Planning for future: the need for additional fire station

By Mike Barhorst - Contributing columnist

City councilmembers recently approved the purchase of 12.5 acres of property on Wapakoneta Avenue near the intersection of Hoewisher Road that will be used for the construction of a third fire station. Since that exciting announcement, I’ve been asked by several individuals, “Why do we need a third fire station if our population has not increased significantly and our commercial and industrial bases have similarly not seen significant growth?”

First, the discussion about the need for a third fire station has been ongoing since 1994. Since that time, Sidney’s demographics have changed considerably. Sidney’s footprint has increased by 1,599.308 acres, our population by 1,752 people, and the number of employment opportunities by 5,876 jobs. In fact, every day Sidney’s population increases by more than 5,000 as employees come into the city for employment!

The discussion about an additional fire station continued, and during the 2008 biennial city council retreat, the third station was prioritized as city council’s number two goal. In each of the sessions since (2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016), the station has remained on council’s list of priority goals.

Following council’s 2008 session, a Community Risk Assessment & Standard of Cover analysis was completed using a template developed by the Commission on Fire Accreditation International. That analysis was presented to council by then Fire Chief Stan Crosley in March 2009.

This marked the first time in the Sidney Fire Department’s history that an open and true comparison of the department’s performance against national standards and criteria had been attempted. The 2009 analysis was updated by Fire Chief Brad Jones in 2014. In addition, the Insurance Service Organization (ISO) 2002 external study was updated in 2012.

These various studies provided data and statistical information that is revealing. Fire Station One, located downtown, serves an area one and one-half times greater than Fire Station Two, which is located on Vandemark Road. In addition, Fire Station One is protecting three times the number of dwelling units and handling three times the number of calls for service.

An analysis of response time, the time required for call processing, turnout and travel, also revealed system weaknesses. For fire calls, the national standard allows a total of 7 minutes and 30 seconds response time. That includes 90 seconds for call processing, 60 seconds for turnout, or the time it takes for the responders to outfit themselves with the proper clothing and equipment for the call, and five minutes for travel time. The national standard states that departments should strive to meet these time objectives for 90 percent of all incidents.

When the travel time portion of Sidney’s overall response time was broken down by incident response area it was found that the department was meeting the travel time standard only 55 percent of the time in several the city’s northern individual response areas. The report revealed that the department was meeting or exceeding the response time standard in all other areas of the community. The study clearly demonstrated the increased need for an additional fire station.

Another factor the department considered in its evaluation is the continuing residential growth in the north and northeast areas of the community. This residential expansion brings with it another hazard to firefighting. New homes burn up to eight times faster than old homes. Research shows that 30 years ago, homeowners had more than 15 minutes to escape from a burning home. With the materials used in new construction, the amount of time residents have to escape a burning home has been cut to less than four minutes!

This fact was initially difficult for all members of council to understand. It is important to realize that new home construction includes manufactured wood and other lightweight, energy efficient materials that were not used even 40 years ago. Fires in modern homes burn hotter and faster than they did 40 years ago, meaning victims have less time to escape a burning house.

Flashover — the point when intense heat causes an entire room to become engulfed in flames — occurs in homes recently constructed less than five minutes after a fire starts. I live in a home that was constructed prior to 1870. Flashover in a home of that vintage can take 30 minutes or longer. People in homes of newer construction have far less time to get out of a burning house, even if their smoke alarms have alerted them to the fire. In fact, most of the homes in the areas of the city with the greatest response times are homes of newer construction.

The 2009 study also utilized a fire analysis tool to develop planning maps for the location of a potential third fire station. The analysis revealed five ideal locations to meet the national fire response standards. The location purchased is very near one of the exact locations identified, and clearly the time to purchase property is when it is for sale. The property on Wapakaoneta Avenue was available, and the strategic decision to purchase the land was made.

The land purchase for the vital third fire station is the first step in a multi-step process. As much as we might like to begin construction of a new station immediately, a long-range financial plan must be developed to cover the staffing and equipment needs necessary for a third station.

A goal without a plan is nothing more than a wish. As one of my favorite authors (Mark Twain) once wrote: “The secret to getting ahead is getting started. The secret to getting started is breaking complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, then getting started on the first one.”

By Mike Barhorst

Contributing columnist

The writer is mayor of Sidney.

The writer is mayor of Sidney.