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East County Wednesday, May 13, 2020 1 month ago

East Manatee Fire Rescue District Station 7 about to debut in Lakewood Ranch

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East Manatee Fire Rescue improves response times with new stations in Lakewood Ranch.
by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

After East Manatee Fire Rescue District began using a new software program in 2018 to gather information on service calls, Chief Lee Whitehurst realized there was a problem.

Response times to certain sections of Country Club at Lakewood Ranch, Country Club East and The Lake Club were taking up to nine minutes — about double the ideal response time.

The district immediately began planning, and now that work is coming to fruition.

In less than a month, East Manatee Fire Rescue District will open its newest station, a $4 million, 9,259-square-foot facility at 14500 Covenant Way.

Whitehurst said the opening of Station 7 will reduce response times to those areas from nine minutes to the district’s average of five-and-a-half minutes.

The district will move a ladder truck from Station 4, located at 9135 Town Center Parkway, to the new station, which puts it close to some of the district’s largest homes and condominiums.

“That’s a strategic move for us,” Whitehurst said. “It’s going to beef up our coverage for that end of the district, which is where we have more square footage to cover than any other part of the district.”

The new station is within 5 miles of The Concession, which qualifies those residents for a reduction in homeowners insurance costs. Last year, the Insurance Services Office improved the district’s “public protection classification” from a 4 to a 3, with 1 being the best score and 10 the worst.

Whitehurst said Station 7 is being named in honor of former East Manatee Fire Chief Henry Sheffield, who died Dec. 12, 2019.

Willis A. Smith Construction project manager Aaron Simpson and superintendent Richard Powell look at their punch list for a final inspection May 8.

The district had planned a grand opening and open house for May 30, but the event has been postponed indefinitely because of the coronavirus outbreak. The event also was going to serve as a celebration of the district’s 40th anniversary.

Whitehurst said the district is using the month of May to handle logistics and move in furniture to the station, and he still anticipates an opening by the first week of June.

The 12 firefighters needed to run the station were hired in October and have been training. Whitehurst said some district firefighters will be restationed, so not all — maybe not any — of the new hires will be at Station 7.

A $720,000 replacement engine, including equipment, is expected to arrive at Station 4 by the end of the month to replace the one being shipped to the new station.

Whitehurst said the district now will focus on constructing Station 8, located on a 6-acre parcel on the north side of State Road 70, about 3 miles east of Lorraine Road.

“It’s perfect timing,” Whitehurst said. “Station 8 is now ready to move. It was in the budget this year.”

Because of that, the engineering and architecture is done, and the contractor has been hired.

The $4.5 million project was in the district’s budget, so when the station opens in April 2021, it will be paid for, and there will be a year’s worth of operating expenses, about $2 million, already funded.

Whitehurst said Station 8 will be 15% bigger than Station 7. It will house a fire engine and a brush truck, and there is room on the site for expansion. Whitehurst said he envisions the property one day becoming the eastern headquarters for the district, though he is not sure when that might happen. However, with eight stations, the district likely will need to be split to have two battalion chiefs.

“We at least need to start thinking about it,” he said.

Residents of Myakka City will vote in August on whether East Manatee Fire Rescue and the Myakka City Fire Control District should merge.

“Whatever happens with Myakka, that sets us up for success in that direction as well,” Whitehurst said.

Whitehurst said the 34211 ZIP code, which Station 8 will serve, is the fastest growing area of the district. Impact fees will pay for the new station.

“We are matching the growth, and we’re allowing for growth to pay for this,” he said.

The district had planned to build the Station 8 location over the past year, but the project was delayed as it waited for homebuilder Lennar to construct the section of Bourneside Boulevard by which it would access the property.

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