With all the annexations, subdivisions and businesses recently added - and on the horizon - in Richmond Hill, fire chief Vernon Rushing said his department has undergone many changes this year thus far – with many more up and coming.
Added staff, planning for a new station, and increased calls – these are just some of the ways growth has impacted the Richmond Hill Fire Department in 2007.
Rushing said the amount of calls to duty has increased by 130 as compared to this time last year. "It’s just inherent that the more people you have, the more responses you’re going to have."
He attributes many of the additional calls to auto accidents due to there being more cars on Richmond Hill roadways than in years past. The RHFD is required to respond to accidents both as part of the First Responder Program and also to check for hazards and attend to material spills or vehicle fires.
Three firefighters, Tim Hebert, George Perez and Lee Newton, were added to the department this year, increasing the number of fulltime RHFD employees to eight. Rushing is already projecting that growth will enable him to hire more firefighters by the end of next year.
"Our staff and facilities are at a level that is satisfactory for the job that we are required to do right now, but it’s brewing everyday with new subdivisions popping up all the time," Rushing said. "One of the hardest things to do is to look at the future and try to plan exactly where your operations are going to be at. I’m trying to plan our growth here at the department to coincide with the number of new residences and structures we have. We’ve got 266 acres just annexed (on Harris Trail Road), another 1100 acres (near Daniel Siding Road) plus Richmond Hill Plantation is starting to build out. There’s a lot more coming, too."
A new full-scale fire station is coming to Richmond Hill. This is directly attributed to the recently annexed 1,100 acres for developer Lamar Smith’s Richmond Reserve project on Daniel Siding Road. To keep their ISO rating intact, the RHFD is required to have a fire station within five miles of city limits. Richmond Reserve stretches the distance from the current station to the city limits from five to seven miles, creating the need for a new one. Rushing projects construction to start on it in 2009.
Rushing said Smith has promised him land for the station to be built somewhere on Daniel Siding Road.
"If they ever build that interchange down on Belfast-Siding, we’ll be within five miles of that with this new station, so we’ll be covered in that respect as well," he said.
Rushing also said growth may eventually create the need for reopening the old city fire station on Hwy. 144. He said conceptual drawings have been done on the property which indicates tearing down the existing building to build a more downtown-friendly, two-story brick building.
He also cited the increased number of fire inspections the department is required to perform on a regular basis. "It adds up when you figure in the 70-75 new commercial buildings per year," he said.
"As long as I’m fire chief, my primary goal is have the necessary equipment and people to respond to their needs which has entailed quite a bit more work the last few years," Rushing continued. "We’re always consulted when new subdivisions or commercial projects are in the works, so a lot of my time is spent planning these days."