The last planned community meeting on the topic of Fire Station 8’s potential relocation turned heated quickly as residents strongly objected to the county staff’s recommendation to move the fire station to what’s now a salt dome at 26th Street N. and Old Dominion Drive.
The county plans to replace the aging fire station with a larger, “state of the art facility,” which requires the station to be relocated to a larger piece of land or for the current building to be torn down and rebuilt. For the most part, residents at the meetings have objected to any relocation of the fire station, citing the station’s history and importance to the surrounding community, among other issues.
“I have been at these meetings and at every one of them, one or two or five people have suggested either a newer cooperative station or a new station for emergency medical services in the northern part of the county and leaving Fire Station 8 renovated and modernized where it is,” one neighbor said. “And yet immediately that suggestion is dismissed and does not appear on any of these studies that you present. It doesn’t look like you have taken back suggestions in any form for your consideration.”
County staff are planning to recommend the salt dome at 26th Street N. and Old Dominion Drive as the location of the new Fire Station 8 to the county manager. The county manager will then draft a recommendation that will be made to the County Board.
The site at Old Dominion Drive and 26th Street N. is only one of the possible 19 locations that fit the parameters set by the County Board. Under these guidelines, the new location had to improve response times in North Arlington, have at least an acre and a half of land, be county owned or have a willing seller, have access to an arterial road and not exist in a resource protected area. The total cost of acquiring the land and building the new four-bay station also had to be $12 million or less, according to Deputy County Manger Carol Mitten.
Throughout the process, the largest concern has been improving response times to homes in North Arlington, said Deputy County Manager James Schwartz, who previously served as the fire chief.
If the fire station is relocated a minute north to 26th Street N. and Old Dominion Drive, 3,000 more homes will be able to have a four to six minute response time from the fire department, police and emergency medical services, he said.
In most of the county, emergency services are able to get to people within four to six minutes, except in the far northern most part of Arlington, where times can be eight or 10 minutes, he said.
“A person that’s in cardiac arrest must receive basic life support, that’s CPR, in four to six minutes or there’s irreversible brain damage,” he said.
Cardiac arrest is only one of the medical emergencies that are time dependent. Others include strokes and heavy bleeding, Schwartz said, adding that a minute can also make a big difference in a house fire.
“It’s these knowns that drive the importance of response time,” he said. “We have to get to them very fast.”
However, moving the station to the salt dome location won’t quite guarantee a four to six minute response time for every North Arlington resident, Schwartz said, which residents at the meeting found unacceptable.
“All of us in this county, before any other expenditure, should be able to be safe in our homes and have fire, ambulance and police. Those are the things we pay taxes for and if you can’t guarantee that for everybody in the county, you’re not doing your job,” one neighbor said.
County staff will also give the county manager information about four other sites, including the fire station’s current location, that could house the fire station if the $12 million restriction was listed, Mitten said.
For the most part, her comments about including the four other sites fell on deaf ears. Residents expressed frustration with the county’s process, with many of them saying it seemed as if the county planned to recommend the 26th and Old Dominion site regardless of their comments.
“So it seems to me in all of these meetings, as your slides state, staff recommends 26th and Old Dominion site, so that seems like it was your target goal the whole time. I’m sort of feeling that these meetings are nothing more than lip service,” said resident Allen Beland, who owns a house near the fire station.
Residents also repeatedly asked for a task force, similar to the one set up for Fire Station 3 in Cherrydale. Mitten explained that the county staff could not call for a task force as it falls under the County Board’s duties. When residents asked her to recommend the creation of a task force, she said she did not know what the task force’s charge would be.
“If I’m going to be honest, I don’t see what the task force would do, but I am open if someone can articulate with some specificity what a task force would do,” Mitten said.
While there was a loud response from opponents of relocation, not all residents present at the meeting were against a new fire station location.
“I support the relocation of Fire Station 8 because we deserve to be served by a state of the art fire station that will meet the needs of this service area for the next 50 years,” said Darnell Carpenter, a High View Park resident, “which is a four-bay facility that can house the equipment and apparatus needs projected and unforeseen for the next 50 years in a facility that can accommodate the training and housing needs for both genders, as well as using this opportunity to provide a solution to remedy the gap in service to the thousands of households at the northern most area of our service area.”