When property catches fire, distance matters. A whole bunch of Fort Mill property is now a step closer to having firefighters a step closer.
“This station here will absolutely help our response times into the Doby’s Bridge area, down the (Fort Mill) Parkway that’s right in front of us, as well as help insurance rates,” said Fort Mill Fire Chief Chip Wilkerson. He spoke Monday morning at the groundbreaking for the department’s second station.
“We’re also continuing our partnership with the police department, as always, with a place for them in this facility. And generally just helping the community to get service to them faster.”
The second station in Fort Mill will open early next near on Fort Mill Parkway. It’s opposite Catawba Ridge High School, on property donated as part of a coming residential community.
David Broom, Fort Mill town manager, said he’s been involved the past 10 months but the new station has been about five years of town council work.
“Without (town council’s) vision and support, this would not be taking place,” he said.
The site already is cleared. Now, passers by will start to see construction.
“We’ve had some years of planning and getting this to fruition, but we are real close and you should see some footings going in starting next week,” Wilkerson said.
Fire service is one of several key areas picked by town leaders back in 2015 for charging impact fees. A fee on new construction projects in Fort Mill goes directly to paying for fire improvements needed to serve the additional buildings.
Last fiscal year, more than $250,000 from the fire impact fee went to the new station. More is expected this year, for the more than $4 million total project. Already the capital improvement list used in conjunction with impact fee spending shows the need for a third town station in the Springfield area. That project estimate is about $2.7 million.
In some ways, the increased need for fire service is similar to what many project other parts of York County will see in coming years.
County leaders gathered several times in recent months to discuss the need for more firefighters, including paid positions. County volunteer chiefs say finding and keeping volunteers is difficult with so many people working outside their communities now and extensive training required before anyone can step into a burning building.
On Monday night, just hours after the Fort Mill groundbreaking, a York County Council meeting agenda included decisions on whether the county should take over the Riverview Fire Department — at the department’s request — and what job descriptions and pay would accompany the move.
Fort Mill began as an all-volunteer outfit, Savage said, but now has 45 employees.
“The firemen that are surrounding us today respond to every emergency we have,” she said. “They are first responders. They put duty and safety first. They leave their own families in a time of crisis so that they can join us in ours. They put us first.”
The new fire station, Savage said, will help firefighters do it better.
“We need to make sure that they have everything they need to operate within the standard of excellence that’s been set for years in the Town of Fort Mill,” she said.
The location of the second station is important. Insurance safety ratings score fire departments on a number of factors. Those ratings determine how much people pay for fire insurance, largely based on how far they are from a station or hydrant.
Both the Massey and Waterside at the Catawba were approved for more than 1,000 homes each off of Fort Mill Parkway. The Spratt property annexation allowed more than 2,600. All those communities and others are nearer the second fire station than the main one in town, on Tom Hall Street.
“This new fire station will allow better insurance rates in this end of town where we’re continuing to see growth,” Savage said. “It will allow great response times that we all expect.”
The Fort Mill Parkway address also puts a station closer to other outskirts. Fort Mill Parkway runs almost from the Catawba River bridge toward Rock Hill to Springfield Parkway, which itself bypasses downtown on the way to Tega Cay.
“It’s not just service to the homes and the fires but to those that have accidents on the bypass, or on the perimeter of the town,” Savage said. “So as you can hear from the traffic going by, the new high school right across the street, we were very fortunate that the developer of this particular small neighborhood gave us the land to site our new fire station.”
Leaders say they continually look two, three or more decades out to anticipated community needs. Which is how they got to a new fire station on the parkway. They will keep finding solutions to fire service needs, they say, because the issue is important.
“We want to make sure our firemen are served as well as they serve us,” Savage said.