When Pinehurst firefighters moved into a new station on Magnolia Road in 2006, the need for a third one was already on the village’s radar.
The village had been experiencing strong growth, which was stymied somewhat two years later by the Great Recession. But in the decade since the bottom dropped out of the real estate market, growth in the village has been on an upward trajectory.
All the new homes being built farther from the village center and increasing traffic have also impacted emergency response times. That has put the need for a third station front and center.
The village has begun studying ways to respond more quickly to calls, primarily in the outer areas to the north and west where much of growth is occurring.
“We have recognized over the last couple of years that our response times across the village are increasing,” Village Manager Jeff Sanborn said in a report to the council during its Feb. 26 meeting. “That is not entirely surprising. We are getting bigger. The population is growing, and there is more traffic.”
Sanborn said the “greatest concentration” of calls where the village is failing to a widely accepted standard response time of six and a half minutes are in the western Lake Pinehurst communities, Pinewild and the areas outside of borders to the south and west in its fire service district.
“The most readily identifiable solution to that is a third station some place that allows us to reach a greater number of those areas currently too isolated from our existing fire stations,” he told the council. “A station out in that area would probably address more of that problem than anything else.”
In addition to the station on Magnolia Road, Pinehurst has another fire station just off Blake Boulevard.
Mayor Pro Tem John Bouldry said another concern is that both existing stations on are on the same side of the railroad tracks. That creates the potential for slowing firefighters’ response if a train happens to be passing through when an emergency occurs on the other side of the tracks.
“Where else might we look,” he asked. “Geography is certainly an important consideration that we want to look at to ensure the response times are appropriate.”
Compounding the problem is the fact that the fire department has taken on the added responsibility of being the first responder for emergency medical calls, Sanborn told the council.
“In some cases, we have overlapping calls, so there are a lot of factors going into this,” he told the council.
Fire Chief Carlton Cole said in a subsequent interview earlier this week that there are instances where firefighters from one station are on a call and another call comes in. Personnel from the other station, farther away, might have to be dispatched.
In addition to calls in the village and its fire district in the rural areas outside its borders, the village is the primary responder for Taylortown, which does not have its own fire department. It also provides what is called mutual aid to assist other departments nearby on a major call.
The fire department responded to 1,877 calls in 2018. Seventy percent of those calls were in the village limits, 12 percent in the rural fire district and Taylortown, and the remaining 22 percent were assisting other departments, Cole said.
Cole, who has been chief for nearly 10 years, agreed with Sanborn’s assessment about the impact of growth and increasing traffic being the primary factors affecting response times.
“It is something we are concerned about,” he said Monday in a brief telephone interview. “With the development and growth, our call volumes are increasing.”
Cole said a third station is “not an immediate need,” saying instead another station could be five or 10 years out.
The village uses a five-year plan in charting its capital needs. When any project is added to the plan, the council still has to approve the funding.
While the village looks at a more long-term way to improve response times, the village has been contracting with the N.C. Department of Transportation to install traffic control devices on traffic signals at various intersections. Those devices allow the fire department to control the lights and prevent its trucks from being stuck at a light, Cole said.
“We can control the stoplights, which has helped with our response times,” he said.
Those devices have been installed at the intersections of N.C. 211 and Rattlesnake Trail, N.C. 2 and N.C. 5, and at N.C. 5 and N.C. 211. He said the village hopes to have them installed at all major intersections by June.
After incorporating in 1980 as a municipality, the village operated out of the old fire station on Community Road in the village center. It opened a second station on Parker Lane off Blake Boulevard in Pinehurst South in 1991, which came on the heels of the village annexing the Country Club of North Carolina.
The village built the station on Magnolia Road, which is next to Village Hall and across the street from the Police Department, at a cost of nearly $2.7 million.
The council sold the old station to local developer Frank Maeser in 2013 for $200,900. But so far he has not done anything with the building or revealed possible plans for its use.
Sanborn told the council one of the performance measures the village uses for the fire department is response times. He said six and a half minutes is the “generally accepted” standard nationally.
“But that does not mean everybody makes it,” he said. “You’ll find, in fact, most don’t make it, and some departments and stations are better than others.”
Sanborn said the village fire department’s response times have been increasing since at least 2015, which prompted the village to undertake a study. It is in the early stages, he told the council.
“A lot of our response is too difficult to get to based on drive times,” Sanborn told the council of being able to meet the standard.
He saidl there is not really a cost-effective way to solve the issue of overlapping calls, which is not “as big of a contributor” to the slower response times, other than adding more personnel and equipment.
Sanborn said as the village begins developing the budget for the coming fiscal year and updating the five-year capital outlay plan, officials will be “looking at whether it is appropriate to thinking about where the next fire station should be.”
He concluded, “We are going to continue to analyze this.”
Contact David Sinclair at (910) 693-2462 or firstname.lastname@example.org