In an effort to ensure that all areas of the city receive comparable coverage, the Tyler Fire Department has proposed a new fire station for southwest Tyler, as well as combining two districts in the north part of town and reallocating resources.
The proposal was presented to the city council on Wednesday.
The new fire station for southwest Tyler would be at Cumberland Road and Cherryhill Drive, in the Cumberland Gap area. The new station's coverage area would include Jack Elementary School, as well as the area around FRESH by Brookshire's on Old Jacksonville Highway.
Fire Marshal Paul Findley said a 2003 study, which was intended to help the department and city with planning, identified several long-term recommendations for the fire department.
He said that included foresight of a lack of comparable coverage in the southwest part of the city — down Old Jacksonville Road toward the current Toll 49 — and identified that area of town as one for added resources.
"The study we did was to take a closer look and try to identify some opportunities to gain better coverage," Findley said.
He said a subsequent independent study confirmed what the first study showed — that southwest Tyler needed to be addressed.
After the 2003 study, Fire Station No. 10 was added at Old Omen and McDonald roads, and fire stations No. 5 and No. 7 were relocated. Fire Station No. 5 is on Bennett Avenue, while Fire Station No. 7 is located by the intersection of Donnybrook Avenue and Old Troup Highway.
Findley said the addition of Fire Station No. 10 and the relocations helped improve the Insurance Service Organization (ISO) rating for the city. It went from an ISO rating of 3 to 2.
The rating measures risk for casualty insurance; the better the fire suppression capabilities, the lower the rates for certain types of insurance.
And now, the proposed new fire station in southwest Tyler would be a positive step toward maintaining that ISO rating of 2 and giving residents the best coverage possible as the city grows, Findley said.
Fire Capt. Marty Lawrence said an engine company, with a four-man crew, would be stationed at the new Cumberland Gap station, as would the hazardous materials team, which is currently at Fire Station No. 4.
Findley said he expects that the new station would be similar to some of the most recent stations that have been built, but taking into account the specialized hazardous materials crew.
He said he doesn't necessarily foresee the new station having much impact on ISO, but believes it would put the city in a good position when it gets evaluated again for ISO.
Findley noted that fire protection, water supply and dispatching capabilities are all factors when determining the city's ISO rating.
"So to be at 2 speaks volumes about the city and preparation the city's done," he said.
"It's really a team effort to be able to attain it and then maintain it."
As far as response times, Lawrence said the city's goal, which is in line with national standards, is for the majority of potential response locations to be within a mile and a half of the first arriving unit for emergency responses.
Another goal, he said, is for the first unit on scene for emergency response calls — such as a house fire, heart attack or car wreck — to be on scene in less than 6 minutes 70 percent of the time.
He said the city overall meets and exceeds that goal on a year-to-year basis, and the new Cumberland Gap station would allow the city to achieve that goal in that target area as well as citywide.
Additionally, Lawrence said, the city as a whole is reaching or exceeding the goal of having the first unit on scene for emergency response calls in less than eight minutes 95 percent of the time.
But Findley said the city is getting close to or not meeting the goal in that southwest Tyler target area. Calls in that area are currently covered by an engine at Fire Station No. 9, which is located at Paluxy Drive and Cumberland Road, and Fire Station No. 2, which is located on Old Bullard Road.
Therefore, he said Fire Station No. 2 and Fire Station No. 9 wouldn't have to go so far out of their main district if the Cumberland Gap station was in place.
Findley said the challenge was identifying a way to get better coverage in southwest Tyler without having to hire more personnel, and the fire department looked at overall city response times and response distances.
In doing so, he said the opportunity presented itself to look at the placement of other stations. He said as city changes and grows, sometimes those locations need to change, and an overlap in service was seen in north Tyler.
So, Lawrence said, the fire department is proposing to combine fire Districts 1 and 4 and build a new station that will house the current Fire Station No. 1 crew. The current Fire Station No. 4 crew would then move to the Cumberland Gap station.
Findley said by reallocating existing resources rather than hiring additional personnel or purchasing new equipment, the fire department estimates a projected savings over a 20-year period of $17.9 million. He said the total estimated cost for the project is $6.2 million and the project would be funded by the One-Half Cent Sales Tax. He said that results in a net savings of $11.7 million.
City Engineer Carter Delleney said the design of the relocated and new fire station would still need to be approved by the City Council. He said the City Council seemed to appreciate the ideas presented Wednesday, but the design and then construction phases would still require council review and approval.
According to a news release, it is anticipated that the project will be complete in two to three years, prending approval by the City Council.
"The ultimate goal for us is to provide excellent fire and emergency services to the entire city in the years to come," Findley said. "If the city continues to change … we just always have to make sure we're staying on top of it and ahead of it to be looking for these things and come up with opportunities to improve our services where we can."