TARPON SPRINGS — Fire Chief Richard Butcher has heard talk of adding a new fire station north of the Anclote River since he joined the department in 1978.
Thirty-six years later, city commissioners moved forward with plans to open Station 71 on Oct. 1.
For years, Fire Rescue has responded too slowly to emergency calls in that area, Butcher said. Only two bridges in town cross the Anclote, so traffic means it often takes 12 or 13 minutes for firefighters to arrive at a scene. That's well above the 7½-minute average the city must maintain for 90 percent of calls.
"Every single study came out with the fact that we needed to add that station on the north end of town for that response issue," Butcher told commissioners Tuesday.
Mayor David Archie said in addition to improving public safety, the new station could boost development in the area, which is a mix of residences and industry.
"It helps the city as a whole, which means we can continue to hold down the tax rate," he said.
The majority of the construction of the $210,000 temporary station is funded by Penny for Pinellas money, with the rest coming from the city's fire impact fund, according to Ron Harring, the city's assistant finance director.
Nine firefighters — three each shift — will be stationed at the 1600 L and R Industrial Blvd. facility next to the reverse osmosis water plant. When the city bought land for the plant a few years ago, Butcher hoped to open a station on the same property.
"I saw a little crack and stuck my foot in it to keep the door open, and we kind of worked it out," he said. "They finally said we have some space out there."
Until construction on the plant wraps, the station will have a temporary garage for the advanced life support engine and a separate modular home for employees. The city will then build a permanent facility on the same land.
To adhere to county rules, the commission voted unanimously to promote three to-be-named paramedics to lieutenants, one for each of the station's three shifts. The cost increase for the city depends on which employees Butcher selects, but would amount to thousands of dollars in raises.
No new personnel will be hired, Butcher said, though he quipped to the commission that he could use a bigger staff.
"I can fit six on an engine, believe me," he said. "If you folks will fund it, I will do it. I promise you."
Tarpon's busiest station, on S Huey Avenue, won't be affected by the new station opening, Butcher said. It currently runs two of the city's three engines, but one is already designated to respond to emergencies north of the Anclote. The Gulf Road station shouldn't be impacted either, he said.
The only change come Oct. 1 is that engine and the firefighters who staff it will be much closer to the people they serve.
"Having a unit on the north end of town increases our ability for the first responders to render whatever aid we're called out to do," Butcher said. "We're able to provide a better service."
Contact Julie Kliegman at [email protected] or (727) 445-4159. Follow @jmkliegman.