After years of planning, some heated commission discussions about cost and a year of construction, the county-owned fire station in Gum Branch is now in operation.
More than 50 people braved the heat Monday evening to attend a ribbon cutting for the station, which the department moved into last month.
Officially known as Liberty County Fire Station No. 15, the first county-owned station is a step toward the county’s master fire plan, according to county Fire Coordinator James Ashdown.
“This is a big step toward what we’ve got going on, and it’s going to get even better,” Ashdown said.
At a March board retreat, Ashdown proposed moving the county to a paid-staff system in which all stations are manned full-time. The commissioners decided the proposal was a priority project, but acknowledged they would have to get the municipalities on board before moving forward.
So far, there has been no public discussion between governments about the plan. But Liberty County Commission Chairman John McIver alluded to the plan when he spoke about the new station, a project he said was money well spent.
District 3 Commissioner Connie Thrift, who championed the project, also spoke.
“It was a long time before we actually got to where we are today,” she said. “This didn’t happen overnight, we had to wait on the funds to come in … And I am the first one to have (a county station) in my district, and I am so happy for that.”
The county general fund covered the land purchase. The rest of the funds came from the $3 million in Office of Economic Adjustment funds awarded to Liberty County as remediation when a promised brigade of soldiers on Fort Stewart was cancelled.
Assistant County Administrator Bob Sprinkel said the station construction came in at $786,896 by R.H. Tyson Contractors. The station was designed by McCall & Associates.
The station also will receive two new trucks by the end of the month, and an older truck will be placed in reserve for the time being, County Administrator Joey Brown said.
The 3,000-gallon tanker and pumper response truck were custom ordered in November for a combined $520,227, according to previous Courier reports.
There will be three trucks assigned to the station.
Volunteer firefighter Pamela Helton said the crew was eager to get into the new facility, which has sleeping space for five.
“Did you see the old one? The only inside is the bays for the truck,” she said with a laugh. “So we’re excited to be here.”
Volunteers would man the old station as long as possible but they were not able to stay overnight — something that reduced their response time to late and overnight calls, which is when the majority of medical responses are needed, Helton said.
“It’s in the middle part of Gum Branch, so it’s easier to reach out when we get a call. Not only that, but you have to think about how insurance rates are going to be great,” she said, adding that as a homeowner, she is comforted to know the station will be better manned.
Station Capt. Thomas Fisher said the facility was built to score the best ISO rating possible to reduce nearby homeowners insurance premiums, but that the reductions are too complex to quantify because premiums vary so widely by company and property.
The station normally has between 20 and 25 volunteers, but there has been an increase in participation as the station’s completion neared, he said. They moved into the station June 16.
Documented staffing is another element that helps the ISO rating, so Fisher said he is in the process of establishing a schedule for the volunteers.
The station also has the capacity to run on generator power for three days, he said.
Lifelong Gum Branch resident Lee Steele said she was excited about the insurance reduction and safety benefits.