JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The St. Johns Town Center and the surrounding neighborhoods around Gate Parkway are part of the fastest growing area in Jacksonville.
The Jacksonville Association of Firefighters (JAFF) says for that reason there is a need to play catch up and add more fire stations to keep up with the expanding development or the homes will be at a greater risk in the case of a fire.
JAFF tells First Coast News the Gate Parkway area does not align with their recommended “five-mile” rule, which says there should be no more than five driving miles between each fire station.
JAFF’s Randy Wyse and John Long are on a mission to fix the issue before someone’s life is at risk and they aren’t close enough to help in time.
“Basically, the Insurance Service Organization is saying there isn’t enough fire protection in this area,” said Wyse. “Right now this area is rated a 10 by ISO, which is basically as bad as it gets.”
Wyse says the further you are away from a fire station the slower the response time will be, especially when you add in traffic, and the higher your homeowner’s insurance will be too.
Long says the Bartram Park fire is a good example. That’s where they added their most recent fire station back in 2014 following a fire in Bartram Park that they couldn’t get to fast enough because there wasn’t a fire station close.
Last year Jacksonville city council approved two new fire stations in their budget totaling $8.6 million, intended for new stations at Gate Parkway and in Oakleaf, plus a temporary station until they can start construction $250,000. The temporary station could be a trailer and a cover for the fire truck on a private property until a permanent location is ready.
“The mayor’s staff put together the budget I’m sure with input from Councilman Becton that they will put station 63 here,” said Wyse, pointing to the wooded area next to the Deerwood Rotary Children’s Park off Baymeadows Road East.
Councilman Danny Becton likes the property but isn’t sold yet.
“It’s hard to tell because when you talk about real-estate, there’s more to it, there’s neighborhoods, conservation, deeds, there are complexities to it, so it’s nothing where we are going to stick a flag in the ground and say mission accomplished,” said Becton. “There’s nothing positive in this business until we break ground.”
Becton says the city owns the property next to the park. It’s their top choice but there is an easement for conservation of the surrounding development.
He says they plan on canvassing neighborhoods to see if local families actually want a fire station down the street from their homes. If not, the nearest two stations are each 6 miles away, with one at Baymeadows and Western Way and another, with a ladder truck to reach high-rises, located along Hogan Road.
“The need here is great,” said Becton, “right now we are hoping to move in one new station but we’re looking at adding two or three more in the next 20 years.”
Becton says even if they find a permanent site soon it will take several years to build.
“Money isn’t the problem, in this case, it’s finding the right property,” said Becton.
In the meantime, starting October 1 JAFF will have a fire truck and crew at Station 44 along Baymeadows that will focus on the Gate Parkway area until they can make a decision on a permanent location.