FLORENCE, S.C. — The city of Florence is close to acquiring property to be used for the construction of a replacement Ben Dozier Fire Station in west Florence.
At a recent city council budget session, Fire Chief Randy Osterman provided an update on the city’s plans to move the Ben Dozier Fire Station to a location further west and to construct a new fire station to serve the western parts of the city.
The Dozier station, currently located near the intersection of West Palmetto Street and David McLeod Boulevard, would be relocated to the northwest. The new station would be near the intersection of West Palmetto and Ebenezer Road.
“In fact, we have all but finalized the purchase of property on Jody Road for the relocation of the fire station,” Osterman said Tuesday afternoon. “We are still in the process of obtaining the property somewhere in the Ebenezer Road area.”
Jody Road is near the intersection of Hoffmeyer Road and West Darlington Street.
To relocate the Dozier Fire Station, the city has estimated a cost of $2.5 million not including land acquisition.
To build the new fire station, the city’s estimate is $2.5 million, not including land acquisition, plus an additional $1.1 million to purchase the equipment and hire the 12 firefighters to man the station. The new station would cost $654,570 per year in salaries and benefits.
Osterman said Tuesday that the city was trying to split up the hiring of staff for the new station into two groups of six for logistical reasons.
The costs for the construction of the new fire station and the replacement Dozier station would be included in a $31 million bond issue the city is working on along with $19.5 million for Project Urban Square, $5 million for a new baseball stadium to be located near the city tennis center, and $2 million for renovations to the Carolina Theater.
The city originally planned to issue the bonds in November but is looking at moving that date up to take advantage of lower interest rates available now.
A preliminary timeline shown to the council indicates that the city could by late May or early June issue a request for quotes for the design and construction of the fire station. Once the process of selecting an architect and contractor is completed, site preparation could begin in August or September, with construction on the fire stations beginning shortly thereafter and continuing for a year to 14 months.
The goal is to have the stations operational by no later than January 2022.
It will take nearly as long to build a new fire truck to serve the new station, according to Osterman.
The need to relocate the Ben Dozier Fire Station and build another station in west Florence is caused by growth in that area.
Annexations in northwest and west of the Dozier Fire Station make it difficult for the city fire department to continue to cover the area with a single fire station and maintain the city’s Insurance Services Office [ISO] Class 1 rating.
Insurance companies generally require that communities be rated on the level and sufficiency of fire-protection services available. The rating, using data and analytics and response times, is provided by the Insurance Services Office, a subsidiary of Verisk Analytics. The office rates communities on a scale of 1 to 11, with the lower number being more desirable and resulting in lower insurance premiums.
The county also plans to build a fire station very near to the proposed new city fire station for the West Florence Volunteer Fire Department, causing some criticism from people asking why the two governments can’t build a single station which would save space and money.
The answer to that criticism is complicated but basically, the West Florence Volunteer Fire Department currently operates four fire stations, only two of which are staffed at any time. Thus, the West Florence fire department has a higher ISO rating than the city, which would result in higher insurance premiums for city residents who would be served by West Florence.
The situation in West Florence and, to a similar extent in South Florence, is complicated further by various zoning doughnut holes on the map. The city does not currently actively seek to annex but does annex when the owner of the property requests it. This can result in situations in which one house is surrounded by homes in the city but the house itself is not. If a person in one of those neighboring homes sees that house on fire, the address is reported to the 911 operator, resulting in the city fire department being called. However, when the city arrives, they find the home is not in the city and thus, West Florence or Howe Springs should take the lead on the fire response.