|Site has no storage area for fire, rescue vehicles|
Monday, August 13, 2012
By CHARLES BOOTHE - Staff Writer
Franklin County is still eying the possibility of building a new public safety facility in the Westlake area.
Daryl Hatcher, director of public safety, said in a board of supervisors retreat recently that EMS (Emergency Medical Services) and fire calls have risen 42 percent in Westlake in just the last three years.
In 2009, 486 EMS calls and five fire calls were received by public safety in Westlake, which is now headquartered along with a branch of the sheriff's office at 13205 Booker T. Washington Highway. In 2011, EMS calls rose to 619, while fire calls jumped to 81.
Hatcher said the population growth in the area and the addition of retirement and medical facilities have contributed to the increase.
That trend is expected to continue, which means the current facility at only 4,400 square feet is inadequate, Hatcher said. In fact, the fire apparatus must be housed a quarter of a mile away in a leased garage, while the EMS vehicle is parked outside the Westlake facility, which is leased at $3,444 a month. The lease expires in March 2013.
The Westlake station is the second busiest in the county, he said, with a call volume that "would easily overwhelm volunteer agencies." That's why it is staffed by paid personnel with six full-time career staff, rotating 24-hour 2-person shifts. Since the facility is always staffed, calls in surrounding areas are also answered if no one is available at other stations.
Hatcher detailed three short-term options for the county.
The first is to stay in the current facility and address immediate needs, such as vehicle storage.
Option two is to find an alternative facility and negotiate a temporary lease until a permanent station is established.
The third option is to relocate to a volunteer facility, either Scruggs or Burnt Chimney. But Hatcher said both of those stations are impractical because it would increase response time and eliminate the potential insurance ratings benefits for Westlake businesses.
The long-term solution is to build a $1 million 7,500-square-foot fire/EMS/sheriff's office facility. Funding has been earmarked for the project in the county's capital improvement plan.
Carilion Clinic has donated land for such a facility at Westlake Towne Center, but Hatcher said that site has drawbacks. Those include site preparation expense, small space to utilize, exiting through a shopping complex and limited building height because it's adjacent to a helipad.
Alternative sites are available in the Westlake area that offer enough land to expand for future needs and are located in the community served, Hatcher said.
The board took no action on the issue.