Jefferson Park’s vitality remains steady, even if its physical condition isn’t.
PRINCE GEORGE – Its members are the first to answer the call to four different apartment complexes, several subdivisions and commercial sites, yet Jefferson Park Volunteer Firefighters and the paid firefighter medics are working out of an outdated building that has suffered from structural issues for many years.
Built in 1987, the facility that sits on Jefferson Park Road just outside of Hopewell was not actually constructed to serve as a fire station, but was changed with bays for fire apparatus added on to help protect that area from annexation to Hopewell at the time. Having fire protection at that area served as an asset to Prince George in its fight against annexation where cities can take property from counties. The county had already lost some land to Petersburg and Hopewell.
Also at that time, Fire and EMS Director Brad Owens said, as he understands, there wasn’t as much known about shrink-swell soil issues, and as the building settled, it caused foundation issues resulting in cracks in walls as well as the unevenness of doors.
During a recent tour of the facility, Capt. Jason Koren and Volunteer Fire Chief Timothy Flynn pointed out several issues with the building including cracks that have split the cinder blocks clear through to the outside.
A former dayroom has been transformed into sleeping quarters for the 24-hour, seven-day-a-week operation, with several beds only separated by lockers. Now, the training and meeting room does double duty as the commons area requiring the team to move out couches and chairs to allow for tables and space for training.
Though a couple of bay doors recently have been fixed, there are still large gaps from where the door doesn’t meet the floor and obvious structural issues can be seen around the doors and different areas in the facility. It’s pretty tight in the space, too, requiring first-responders to maneuver around equipment that is placed back to back.
Koren pointed out that another area was transformed into sleeping quarters but it’s not conducive to the mission, and also the door to the ladies’ restroom is inside the sleeping quarters.
Though it’s been placed on the county’s Capital Improvement Plan for several years, it hasn’t received a high priority, but that may have changed with the county’s greater focus on public safety.
Jefferson Park is the “first due” fire station to the Puddledock area that includes Puddledock apartments and several commercial medical facilities. “First due” means that Jefferson Park bears primary responsibility to arrive first to a location in its area of coverage.
They also are first due to Independence Place, Jefferson Point and Bailey’s Ridge apartments and the subdivisions in that area as well as Cedar Creek and Cedar Creek West off of Middle Road. They have a densely populated call area, Owens noted.
“It’s not that it’s the only area they respond to,” he said. “Sometimes a call can need one fire station and other calls may require three or even more. And they are not the only who do respond to that call, but they are the first to receive the alarm.”
The station has 23 active volunteers responding to more than 310 calls annually, and is supported by a number of associate members year-round. Career personnel staff a medic unit operating 24 hours a day, seven days per week with the option of a second medic unit that can be manned by volunteer staff.
Engine 5, Tower 5, Brush 5, Support 5, Utility 5, Wildland 5, Responder 5, and Medics 5 and 5-2 are assigned to the Jefferson Park Station.
It’s a challenge getting the ambulance and fire apparatus into the bay, Flynn and Koren pointed out, explaining that an increase in traffic has made pulling out from the station onto Jefferson Park Road (requiring a wide turn) an impediment to traffic. They can no longer back up the emergency vehicles into the bay and have to enter around the back.
“We have a lot of challenges,” Flynn noted. “The county does a good job with the maintenance, but it’s a daily struggle.”
Despite the dedication of the volunteers and staff who explain they work together as a team, and even stay together at times at Company 5, the building is just no longer efficient, officials say.
“We have outgrown the station, especially since we have an around-the-clock staffing program, and there could be around-the-clock five to six people, both paid and unpaid volunteers there at any given time,” Owens noted. “It’s been modified over the years, but it’s not conducive to that type of program.”
Though the building predates Owens’ command as director, he said when first opened, Company 1 (Prince George Volunteer Fire Department) staffed Company 5 until it later branched off into its own leadership. And a lot has changed since that time, mostly developments that require a high demand on those providing service form Jefferson Park.
The proposed site is land off of Brandywine Road that backs up to Garfield near the Stratford Woods subdivision that was proffered to the county by a developer with the agreement that once the county gained its certificate of occupancy, the property where the station now sits would go to the developer.
The only impact, Owens said to the Board of Supervisors at its Tuesday night regular meeting, would be positive.
“It would have no impact on response times,” he said. “If anything it only enhances efficiencies and they will be able to get there faster, safely and more efficiently.”
He said the public safety department is focused on improving its systems to ensure they are best serving the public in its time of need.
County officials discussed plans to look into using the Route 10 station design which is currently under construction that could result in savings in architectural fees and change orders, since the needs will be known prior to construction of a new JPVFD.
Originally when the station was placed on the CIP, it was estimated to cost $2.495 million, but Owens and other county officials realized that it will cost more now.
“The estimate for the Jefferson Park relocation is currently a ‘place-hold,’ and the amount will require fine-tuning as discussions continue regarding design and type of station,” Deputy County Administrator Betsy Drewry reported to the Board.
The new Carson Volunteer Fire Department that was completed in 2017 cost $2.261 million, and the Route 10 station constructed is budgeted at $2.96 million.
Supervisor T.J. Webb asked if that could be done without a tax increase, and from staff reports it can. Plans continue as supervisors have expressed they want to accelerate the completion of this project.
By Adrienne Wallace, H-P Editor
Adrienne Wallace is editor of the Hopewell Herald and Prince George Post, a sister publication of The Progress-Index.