The Columbia Fire Department is ready to build Fire Station 11 in southwest Columbia.
The city presented plans for the new firehouse to the public nearly 14 months ago. Community leaders formally broke ground Tuesday afternoon on the fully funded $4.8 million project. Construction is expected to finish by late summer 2023.
Improving public safety response times is part of what Matt Pitzer, Fifth Ward city council member, wanted to address when he first ran for council in 2017, he said Tuesday. The new station is being built at 6909 Scott Blvd., in the Fifth Ward.
“I made a promise to fill the coverage gap for emergency services in southwest Columbia,” Pitzer said. “It is up to us to give our firefighters all the tools they need to perform day-in, day-out.”
The 2015 Capital Improvement Sales Tax committee crafted a ballot initiative that successfully raised funds for design and construction. Among that group was former Tribune publisher Vicki Russell, who joined in the groundbreaking.
Along with station construction, the city intends to hire an additional 12 firefighters, nine of which would work from station 11. The department continues to work on securing land and building up funds for Fire Station 10 in eastern Columbia, located in the Sixth Ward.
“I look forward to attending a groundbreaking for your fire station someday soon, too,” Pitzer said, addressing Sixth Ward council member Betsy Peters, who was present.
The roughly 10,000-square foot station 11 will include living quarters, a training room, commercial kitchen, fitness room, two offices, equipment repair room, industrial washing machines to clean contaminated equipment, and three truck bays. Energy efficiency is a major part of construction, including ground source heating and cooling and roof-mounted solar panels. If the station were to lose power during a weather event, it will have a backup generator.
“Groundbreaking ceremonies are an exciting time for any project because it allows city officials to be here and show that progress as promised,” said Mayor Barbara Buffaloe, acknowledging fire department staff as the “true heroes here.”
The energy efficiency efforts of the station are exciting and will save on expenses once operational, she added.
Why the city is building another station
The city has not built a new fire station in more than a decade. The department was eyeing one in southwest Columbia even at that time, said Randy White, former fire chief. Work started in earnest roughly seven or eight years ago.
“I’m just very pleased to see things moving forward,” White said.
The purpose behind Fire Station 11 and the eventual Fire Station 10 in eastern Columbia is improving response times. Residents in the area of station 11 have been serviced by Fire Station 6 on Chapel Hill Road and Fire Station 7 on Green Meadows Road, but response times have been more than five minutes.
“(This station) is going to allow the fire department to provide fire, rescue, hazardous materials and emergency medical services to be delivered to our residents in a much more timely fashion in this southwest portion of the community as it continues to grow,” said Clayton Farr Jr., interim fire chief.
The department likes to keep response at less than five minutes. Building the station at South Scott Boulevard and Route K will address this, multiple city leaders said.
“Fire Station No. 11 highlights our ability to look into the future and anticipate the needs of our residents,” said De’Carlon Seewood, city manager.
The fire department is pleased that both current and former city leadership has put “public safety really at the forefront of city budget priorities,” Farr said, also acknowledging former fire chiefs White and Andy Woody for their work to realize the new stations.
“Homeowners, apartment complexes, office and business owners in the area should also expect an immediate improvement in their insurance ratings, so their rates should go down,” he said, adding the station will receive a brand new truck apparatus around the same time construction is completed.
Charles Dunlap covers local government, community stories and other general subjects for the Tribune. You can reach him at email@example.com or @CD_CDT on Twitter. Please consider subscribing to support vital local journalism.