Steady population growth, changing traffic patterns and a significant increase in call volume could lead the Dothan Fire Department to relocate one existing fire station and add at least one more in the near future.
Dothan Fire Chief Larry Williams said an extensive review of those factors makes the relocation and addition of stations necessary to continue to be able to respond to fire and emergency calls quickly.
“We have continued to be able to provide the services we have for 14 years now without the addition of personnel or stations despite significant growth in our city,” Williams said. “That is a testament to the men and women we have working here at the Dothan Fire Department.
“It is clear now that if we want to continue to provide the services to our residents, some changes will need to be made,” Williams added.
Plans are still being finalized concerning which station fire city administration wants to relocate and where a new station (or stations) would be built.
The plans are far from a done deal. Williams plans to bring final plans to Dothan commissioners some time within the next one or two months.
The cost will be extensive.
Williams estimated it would cost about $1.5 million to build a new fire station. It will also cost $1.5 million or more to man a new fire station with 15 additional personnel (standard for each fire station) and an additional fire truck.
The cost of a new relocated fire station, plus a brand new fire station along with personnel and a truck is estimated at around $5 million.
How We Got Here
Williams said a comprehensive review of policies, equipment, technology, personnel, city growth, traffic patterns and station locations began around six years ago. Williams said he and other department members soon realized internal and external changes would have to be made in order to maintain quality response time to fire and emergency calls and to maintain Dothan’s ISO/2 rating, a measurement often tied to the cost of business and homeowner insurance premiums.
Changes that either have been made or are in the process of being made include:
» Data: Williams said the department has been using a software management system that is not specialized for use by fire departments. That meant firefighters were required to fill out duplicate forms for certain responses. Battalion Chief Chris Etheridge said the software did not have an adequate way of tracking the training hours needed for each firefighter.
“From a management standpoint that is crucial. The software we were using was very cumbersome,” Williams said.
The Dothan City Commission recently approved the purchase of Firehouse software, specially designed for use by Fire departments. The new software will reduce redundancy and track training hours more efficiently.
» Connectivity: Currently, all Dothan fire stations do not have fiber optic connectivity. Williams is seeking E911 funds to help with the cost of connecting all stations with optical fiber to enhance communication between departments and dispatchers. Cost of connectivity is estimated to be around $500,000.
» Alerting system: Etheridge said the system used to alert departments of fire and emergency calls is outdated and does not provide an adequate backup in case the frontline system fails.
“Right now we are using a 1970s model alerting system,” Etheridge said.
» Pre-incident planning: Four inspectors are responsible for inspecting 4,100 identified businesses in Dothan. Part of the requirement for a strong ISO rating is to inspect these businesses, to become familiar with the layout of the building, potential fire hazards, form strategy for attacking fires should one occur there, and other factors. Williams said inspectors and other department personnel are now getting around to all of the businesses once per year.
“From an ISO-grading standpoint, this is huge. We are able to go out and get this information. It’s stored electronically with the new Firehouse software and our firefighters who respond to calls will have this information available at their fingertips.”
Growing, changing city
Williams said the distribution of fire departments throughout the city helped cover Dothan for many years, but substantial growth has created pockets or gaps in coverage.
“We believe our coverage is still very good to any part of the city, but as the city grows, we’re better served for some changes to be made,” Williams said.
Dothan’s population in 2000 was 57,737. The most recent population estimates push the city’s population to around 66,000, and the daytime population of Dothan balloons with people coming from other areas to work and shop. Also, Etheridge said growth throughout the city has been stronger in some areas of the city than others.
Williams said the average response time for a service call within the city is 5:00. He said the national average is between 5:30 and 6:00.
“We would like to get it down to 4:30,” Williams said.
Additionally, while road construction and improvements have helped increase response time in many places around the city, Williams said some changes may force firefighters to think about alternate routes. Williams mentioned improvements to Highway 231 North that restrict turns across traffic. Planned improvements to Ross Clark Circle would also restrict turns across traffic.
Also, Etheridge said call volume has almost doubled in the past 15 years from 6,000 to more than 11,000 per year.
“We are averaging more than 30 calls per day,” Etheridge said.
Why This Is Important
Williams said maintaining a strong ISO rating is one of many reasons to relocate and add fire stations.
“Quicker response times save lives. That’s the bottom line,” Williams said. “We want to provide the best possible service we can. If you or your loved one is in need of emergency assistance whether it is medically-related or fire-related, you want us to be there as soon as we possibly can. Thirty seconds can make a huge difference.”
Meanwhile, Williams said strong ISO ratings are also important to maintain.
ISO (Insurance Services Office) ratings are tied to the cost of insurance premiums. While Williams and Etheridge said the difference between Dothan’s current rating of ISO/2 and an ISO/3 is negligible for homeowners, it can make a huge difference for business insurance premiums.
Williams said Dothan can’t expect another long gap of time between ISO visits. Dothan received an ISO/2 rating in 1998 and was able to maintain that rating on ISO’s recent visit last year. Williams said he expects another ISO visit in three to five years.
“This is why we feel the need to move now,” Williams said.
Year each Dothan Fire Station Came Online
# 1 – 2000 (relocated)
# 2 – 1990-1991
# 3 – 1974
# 4 – 1998
# 5 – 1974
# 6 – 1995
# 8 – 1998
# 9 – 1998
* - Station #7 is located at Dothan Regional Airport
Source: Dothan Fire Department
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