Leader Blues

Monday, March 19, 2007

TOP STORY >>Cabot rearranging fire-fighting power

IN SHORT: Cabot fire chief wants to close Central Fire Station and open another at Hwy. 5 to secure a good insurance rating for residents there.

Leader staff writer

Cabot firefighters toured a $12 million fire station at Little Rock Air Force Base Thursday on the lookout for design features that could be incorporated into a new station they hope to move into by the end of this decade.

“It’s the dream-in-the-sky sort of station for us,” Fire Chief Phil Robinson said of some of the stations more expensive features. But he knows a new, additional station is necessary to secure good insurance ratings for Cabot’s Hwy. 5 residents.

Robinson said he especially liked the family room with high chairs to accommodate visitors and the hallway lined with pictures of former fire chiefs. He was pleased to see that Station 3 and Station 4 in Cabot already have the combination parking bay and washing bay like the bays at the new station on the air base.

But he also said he realizes that, at least for a while, his firefighters might be living in a temporary mobile home set on three acres on Hwy. 5.

Of the 15 pieces of property he presented to the fire and police committee Wednesday evening, the parcel on Hwy. 5 seemed the most favorable.

And even though he would like a new station now, Robinson says with a few repairs the mobile home will be livable and the large concrete block building already on the site is adequate for a couple of fire trucks.

“I think our folks would be okay there for a year or two,” he said. “It’s a good building to start with.”

The handout Robinson gave the council members who sit on the fire and police committee described the property located at West Mt. Springs Road and Hwy. 5 as commercial property with an existing two-bay shop, mobile home and storage building, located outside city limits but with city water, electricity and no gas.

The asking price is $295,000, an amount that Mayor Eddie Joe Williams said the city can afford.

“You should see the budget,” Williams told the committee. “We’re working miracles.”

Alderman Becky Lemaster said during the committee meeting that the property sounded good to her because the city could use it now and sell it later to help pay for a new station.

Williams said the real cost of a fire station is the staff and equipment. Staffing alone requires about $500,000 a year, he said, and for now the only way to staff the new station that is needed to hold insurance premiums down for some residents on Hwy. 5 is to close one of the existing stations.

For now, Robinson is recommending closing Central Station located near the railroad tracks in downtown. Station 3 on Hwy. 89 and Station 4 on Highway 321 would remain open.

City officials learned last fall that some houses (fewer than 200) off Hwy. 5 were outside the five road-mile limit allowed by Insurance Services Office, which rates cities on fire protection for insurance purposes.

Those houses would have been given an IS0 rating of 10 (no fire protection) in December if the city hadn’t moved a fire engine into an empty bay at the station on Hwy. 5 owned by Mt. Springs Volunteer Fire Department. Depending upon the insurance company, premiums for those houses could have doubled or tripled.

The city council meets Monday and will likely pass a resolution giving the mayor and city clerk authority to extend the city’s lease on that bay from one year to three years to allow time to build a new station.

But Alderman Ken Williams, chairman of the fire and police committee, said if the city buys the three acres, extending the lease won’t be necessary. However, he said the council should still pass the resolution in case it is needed.

The fire chief said the mobile home is leased until the end of April and the property owner would honor the lease, so firefighters could not move in until after the current occupants move out and minor repairs are made.

If necessary, the storage building on the property could also be converted to living quarters, he said.

Robinson has been vocal about not putting firefighters in substandard quarters. But he said about the property the committee appears to favor, “I like the location. I like the fact that it is ready now.”