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Spring Hill may build its fifth fire station

It is a good thing Ruby La Cour has confidence in God.

La Cour's home on Spring Time Street in El Pico, the dusty subdivision along County Line Road, is at least 10 minutes away from an ambulance or a fire truck _ as far removed from emergency aid as a person can get in Spring Hill.

Recently, it took an ambulance crew 12 minutes to reach an address in the neighborhood _ twice the average 6-minute response time for residents elsewhere in Spring Hill.

Yet La Cour, 70, is unconcerned about her personal well-being. She says heaven, with its streets of gold, awaits if a tragedy befalls her.

"If it's meant for the ambulance to get to me on time, God will get it there," she said.

While La Cour is unfazed, Spring Hill Fire Rescue officials aren't happy with how long it takes to reach certain areas of Spring Hill that are farthest removed from fire stations. And, in many cases, they say the best solution is a fifth fire station for Spring Hill.

On Monday, Spring Hill fire commissioners agreed to allow Fire Chief J.J. Morrison to begin scoping out land for a future fire station. Ideally, Morrison said, it would be property along Spring Hill Drive between Waterfall Drive and Mariner Boulevard.

Aside from El Pico, a fifth station in that area would shorten response times to homes in Oakridge Estates or Orchard Park. Those communities _ both north of Spring Hill Drive _ have response times that average 8{ minutes.

Morrison said the maze of streets, the barrier of Lake Theresa and simple distance make it difficult for the nearest fire crews to get to that area quickly. "Are we happy with that?" Morrison said. "Absolutely not."

Morrison said the location of the district's four existing stations were built into Deltona Corp.'s original plans for Spring Hill. As such, they do not reflect all the areas of growth Spring Hill has seen in the past 35 years.

Areas along Coronado Drive have grown so much that Station 3 _ located at Whitewood Avenue and Spring Hill Drive _ that once saw a single emergency call per week have now become the busiest in the fire district, Morrison said.

That puts a strain on all the fire stations. To maintain the current level of service, Spring Hill will need a fifth station within five years, he said.

As for El Pico _ which sits along County Line Road in an area between Mariner Boulevard and Waterfall Drive _ the problem is poor access.

As the crow flies, El Pico is less than a mile south of Spring Hill Drive.

The only access, other than a few bike trails impassable to street vehicles, is from County Line Road, Morrison said. With the nearest firehouses on north Mariner or east Spring Hill Drive, that's quite a distance.

Paving some of the dirt trails spiraling out of El Pico would go a long way toward reducing response times. But Morrison said a new fire station positioned to serve the south-central part of Spring Hill is the solution.

Exactly how the fire district will make that happen is not clear.

Developers pay impact fees to local governments to compensate them for costs associated with growth. But the fire district's impact fee account currently has only $150,000 _ probably not enough to buy land for a new station house.

The fire district has a $1.4-million cash reserve. But Morrison has said nearly $1-million of that must be held back at the end of each calendar year to cover operating costs during the weeks before new tax revenues arrive.

Fire commission chairman Jeffrey Hollander said the fire district needs to start setting money aside in its next budget for the new station. Commissioners Tommy Marasciullo and Gene Panozzo said, given rising land prices, the district should try to buy property for the station as soon as possible.

At the fire board's previous meeting, commissioner Darryl Hamilton tried to cut $179,000 out of the fire district's $9-million operating budget to put back for the new fire station, but the other commissioners blocked his effort, saying it would have left the district unable to meet its payroll.

_ Times staff writer Robert King covers Spring Hill and can be reached at 848-1432. Send email to