One fire station opens, one closes

By: Stephanie Dumm, News Messenger Reporter
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In a move to address response times of greater than eight minutes, the Twelve Bridges Fire Station re-opened and the McBean Park Drive Fire Station closed. The Twelve Bridges fire station re-opened Monday, which is the same day the McBean Park fire station, also known as Station 33, closed. The city has a third fire station, Station 34, located on Joiner Parkway near First Street. The area of the city covered by the Twelve Bridges fire station is everything east of 65 and south of Ferrari Ranch Road, according to Lincoln Fire Chief Dave Whitt. Station 35 covers the city west of Highway 65 and south of Ferrari Ranch Road. Twelve Bridges Fire Station was closed the summer of 2008 due to mold problems. It did not re-open after the mold problem was fixed due to lack of staffing, according to previous News Messenger reports. Whitt said the Twelve Bridges Station “was turned back over to us the first part of this year” after the station’s builder “bore all of the costs to have the mitigation of the mold done at no expense to the city.” The decision to re-open Station 35, also known as the Twelve Bridges Fire Station, came after a Geographic Information System study was done this spring to determine call volumes and response times for the three areas of Lincoln covered by the Lincoln Fire Department, according to Whitt. He added that the study “didn’t cost us anything.” The three areas of Lincoln studied were “the original district boundaries covered by each fire station,” according to Whitt. “The three districts were put into place in anticipation of the third fire station that was to open in 2008,” Whitt said. “Two weeks prior to the third station opening, the firefighters found the mold.” Station 34 covered “most everything west of Highway 65 except for the downtown area,” Station 33 covered everything east of Highway 65 and north of Del Webb Boulevard, and Station 35 covered everything east of Highway 65 and south of Del Webb Boulevard, according to Whitt. “We found that 50 percent of the call volume in Station 35’s area was greater than eight minutes,” Whit said, which is “because of the location, just not having that station manned or staffed is one of the things that probably lends itself to the response times.” He said the districts, or areas, covered by the fire stations were “reset” two weeks ago in response to the GIS study. Whitt said it cost the city “less than $2,000” to re-open the Twelve Bridges station. That was to buy new mattresses and steam clean to prevent mold spores from “propagating,” as well as new metal blinds. The McBean Park station is on “minimal support” since its closure, with the power staying on so the station doesn’t “get excessively hot or cold,” preventing freezing pipes, according to Whitt. While he would not say how much it costs to keep power on at the station, Whitt said $50,000 has been budgeted for the utilities at all three fire stations this year. The News Messenger asked Whitt how the closure of the McBean Park Fire Station, or Station 33, would affect residents serviced by that station. “It will. The balance between call volume and response times determined it would be better for us to move the staffing from one station to the next based on the call volumes,” Whitt said. “As the area to the north and east of the area grows, the call demand should go up like we expect it to and that will increase our response times to that area,” Whitt said. “For right now, with the call volume and response times, it was best we re-open that station.” Whitt said the McBean Park Fire Station would stay closed “for the foreseeable future.” “Hopefully, eventually when the city’s financial picture changes for the more positive, we can hire an appropriate amount of staff,” Whitt said. “But to open up a fire station takes the hiring of 10 people.” The News Messenger visited the Twelve Bridges Fire Station Tuesday and talked to some of the firefighters about the change. “Really, it makes no difference because there’s still one station in the city that’s closed down,” firefighter Richard MacCracken said. “I would rather see, as a worker in the department and resident of Lincoln, all three open and staffed but we can’t do that because of budgetary issues.” Firefighter Aaron Bjorgum said “ultimately, it’s the decision of the fire department, as well as where calls of service are.” “The service we deliver to the public is important to us,” Bjorgum said. “It’s a difficult choice to do that (close one fire station and open the other) but ultimately this will provide better service to residents as a whole.”