Fort Mill Times

Fort Mill could get new fire station

Ken Kerber
Ken Kerber

As Fort Mill continues to grow, Fire Chief Ken Kerber has a vision that includes a new fire substation.

"In 24 months, I'd like to be in the building," he said.

Kerber's vision is less about a new location and more about service.

"In the past, we were protecting largely farm land," he said. "Now, we're protecting significantly more lives and [developed] property."

Town officials are looking for a prime spot near Doby's Bridge Road, Town Manager David Hudspeth said.

"That's the area we're trying to serve, the Doby's Bridge corridor. "We're still looking for sites right now. We would like to find a location near the intersection of Doby's Bridge Road and the [planned] Southern Bypass."

Kerber contends that officials have talked for years about putting a fire station in the Doby's Bridge Road area. Now, the increasingly dense section of town warrants a second fire station, he said.

'We're looking at a number of pieces of property," Kerber said. "We will speak with property owners over the next 30 days to see what's available."

Manning a second fire station means taking on six firefighters. Of that, two will work each of the three shifts at the proposed substation. Nine paid firefighters and 18 volunteers hold down the fort at the existing fire station.

Bringing a new crew on board, plus maintaining their benefits, uniforms and other expenses could run about $300,000, Kerber said.

However, building a new fire station might not cost anything for the Town of Fort Mill if Kerber successfully applies for and receives part of a $210 million federal grant.

"it's a fully funded grant," he said of the potential funding source that would not require the town to put up any matching funds. "It's for construction of new facilities or major renovations of existing facilities.

Otherwise, building the next fire station could cost a minimum of $500,000, depending upon what it's made of and what amenities are included. The existing fire station that's anchored in downtown Fort Mill was built in 1994 and cost about $1 million.

"We have geographical areas in our fire district that are further away from our fire station," Kerber said.

That means a loss of invaluable time; The new fire station will mean faster service to parts of the district that were annexed into town limits since the fire station was built.

"Fire response is all about timely response," Kerber said. "That could be the difference between life and death."

Deputy Chief Jerry Chapman added, "The standard is an initial engine is suppose to be on the scene in four minutes."

There's an easy formula to gauge response time to neighborhoods, Kerber said.

"You can't do that if you're five miles or greater away," he said. "It's impossible."

A new fire department also means the fire department can improve its ISO rating. ISO - or Insurance Services Office - rates fire department services nationwide on a scale of one to 10. A "one" rating represents the best. Fort Mill has a four ISO rating; however, a lower rating would subsequently mean better fire insurance premiums for business and homeowners.

"If we can respond better and get a lower ISO [rating], everybody benefits," Kerber said.

"The quicker we can get there, the quicker we can address the fire."

For now, Kerber continues to pull the grant paperwork together. The application must be submitted by July 11.