Caledonia firefighters make bid for new station

April 6, 2013 7:30:54 PM

Nathan Gregory - [email protected]


The building that houses District 1's main fire station in Lowndes County has been in use since the county has had a fire department.  


Officials with the county's volunteer fire services are hoping to convince Lowndes County supervisors to take the first step in a process to build a new main station by purchasing a parcel of land that would allow room for long-term growth. 


County Fire Coordinator Sammy Fondren told supervisors Monday the department had money set aside to purchase 3.24 acres at the corner of Lawrence Street and Main Street in Caledonia but was requesting the county purchase the land so the department can earmark what it has saved to go toward construction costs of the facility. 


Fondren said the owner of that property, Perry Brown, had originally listed that property for sale at $60,000 but was willing to sell it to the fire department for $50,000. 


With the backing of District 1 Supervisor Harry Sanders, supervisors will discuss the proposal during its April 15 meeting.  


Fondren said department members had voiced concerns about outgrowing the current facility and felt a larger one would help facilitate training for firefighters and improve services for residents. Also an issue, he said, was the location of the current station and the access problem it presents if firemen are dispatched at peak traffic hours. 


"The station is right in the middle of town on a side street, so it can get a little congested," Fondren said. "It was built in the 1970s and met the needs at that time, but when you get new vehicles that are bigger, wider and taller, you run into the problem of not being able to put them in the existing stations." 


District 1 Fire Chief Mark Spears, who was not at Monday's meeting, said he would provide a more detailed explanation for the need to purchase the land and build a new station at the April 15 supervisors meeting. 


"Physically, there's nothing horribly wrong with the building, but with trucks getting bigger over the years, the station is not built to house the size of the trucks that are starting to come out," Spears said. "With Caledonia growing the way it's growing, we need to look into the future and ... try to have a station that is more user friendly." 


Spears said a new, larger station could also be beneficial for the residents because it could be converted into a temporary shelter for displaced people during severe weather. The larger property would also allow for improved equipment testing procedures, Spears said. 


"We don't need that much land, but the problem is it's an all-or-nothing deal," Spears said. "Having that much land would give us an opportunity to do hose testing without having to shut down streets. We would have an area where we can do it without hindering the public ... The point is, we need to grow and we would like to do some things that we're just not capable of at the current station." 


Spears said the approximate cost for a "bare-bones" facility would run the department roughly $200,000. 


Sanders said the board would have likely approved to purchase the land Monday if it had prior explanation of what department members hoped to do. 


"Nobody in the room had any idea what (Fondren) was talking about until he presented his proposal," Sanders said. " The normal courtesy is to at least tell somebody what in the world you're going to be up there for." 


Even so, Sanders said he believed the board would approve purchasing the property. 


"It shouldn't be any problem whatsoever. We've just got to get an appraisal on it," he said. "If the purchase price is within what it is appraised for, we don't have any problem buying it." 


Spears said the board had always been a strong proponent of all five of the county's fire districts and cooperative with fulfilling their needs. He said the timing of the department's request was based on the urgency to show interest in the property. 


"I think we'll go through with it. My downfall was how fast this presented itself," Spears said. "We were trying to get on it before the land was gone. When you can find some land you want to get on it as fast as you can. The problem was not communicating with (Sanders)." 


The District 1 VFD has 45 members and three substations in addition to its main station. 


Construction on a new station in District 3 is under way on Pleasant Hill Road in the Rural Hill community, Fondren said.

Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.