Thursday, July 18, 2024

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Graham, NC 27253
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Graham city council considers where to put new fire substations

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Graham’s city council heard a presentation Tuesday night of where the need is greatest for a second, and even possibly a third, fire station in the city.

Currently, the Graham has one fire station, at city hall along South Main and West Pine streets.

Graham city council members have discussed a second fire station for perhaps 20 years or more, with a second station usually described as being needed in the “southern” part of the city.  For years, the assumption had been that it would be somewhere along, or near, South Main Street well south of I-85/40.

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The city bought one-and-a-half acres of land off South Main Street, between Moore Street and Rogers Road, in 2021, with the assumption that it would be the site of the second fire station.

The council voted 3-2 at the time to buy the property for the seller’s asking price of $225,000. An appraisal done for the city put the value of the property at $146,000. The dissenting council members from 2021 are now mayor Jennifer Talley and mayor pro tem Ricky Hall; there are three new members since then.

In 2021, fire chief Tommy Cole told the city council that development on the southwestern side of the city (along and near Rogers Road) represented a high priority, although Cole had also said the city needed two substations, one in the southwestern portion of the city and another in the southeastern area. This week, Cole reiterated that the city is “growing at a rapid, rapid rate.”

However, this week’s report presented by retired fire chief Greg Grayson of the consulting firm NC Fire Chief Consulting, assessed that the highest priority is a need to put a fire substation on the eastern side of the city, near Cherry Lane, Jimmie Kerr Road, and other new subdivisions along Jim Minor Road near the city’s regional park.

In background materials presented to the council, Cole summarized, “Since 2020, Graham has experienced unprecedented growth, making it an increasingly attractive place to live and raise a family. This rapid expansion underscores the urgency of enhancing our fire protection infrastructure.”

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GRAHAM FIRE DEPT. RESPONSE TIMES: Blue = 4 minutes or less; Green = 5-6 minutes; Orange = 7-8 minutes; Red = 8-9 minutes. Source: NC Fire Chief Consulting

The $14,000 study presented to the council Tuesday night examined fire calls over the past three years, with Grayson saying that in 90 percent of the cases, first responders arrived within 7 minutes and 49 seconds.

While there is no state-mandated response time, Grayson said, for an “urban” fire department such as Graham, arrival within four minutes is a target goal, he explained to the council. Travel time is one of the key ingredients that determines how long it will take for first responders to arrive on the scene, Grayson explained.

While mutual aid agreements with surrounding and nearby fire departments can assist with these calculations, Grayson said the key is the city’s own response time from its fire station(s).

Cole noted that Mebane, Haw River, and Swepsonville are the most frequent mutual aid responders to fire calls in Graham.

The council honed in on Grayson’s suggestion that Graham Regional Park, along Jim Minor Road, would be a good location for a fire station in the eastern portion of Graham, and much council discussion focused on that possibility.

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One location that interested Graham mayor Jennifer Talley and other council members was at the Graham Regional Park on Jim Minor Road.

However, it was also noted that the city received a state grant to purchase of most of the land that now constitutes the regional park, and no one was sure whether the state would allow even a portion of the property to be converted for a fire substation.  Grayson, who had once been fire chief in Greensboro, noted that that city has several fire substations located at or near public parks.

Mayor Jennifer Talley asked city manager Megan Garner to explore with state officials what flexibility the city might have in placing a fire substation at the regional park. It was mentioned that at least one three-acre parcel was not part of the grant-purchased land, but Talley wanted to explore the best location, regardless of how the land was purchased.

Mayor pro tem Ricky Hall asked whether another alternative site, also owned by the city, would be the NC 54 entrance into the city’s wastewater plant.  Cole responded that it was “not a great location.”

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Fire chief Tommy Cole said that the NC 54 entrance into the city’s water treatment plant was not deemed a good possible location for a fire substation.

Hall also questioned whether the city could look at a possible police substation in conjunction with a fire substation.

Another option raised by Grayson, which particularly attracted the interest of Talley, was the possibility of some sort of joint fire district on the outskirts of an eastern site with Alamance County.

“Providing services in the unincorporated area (such as the Graham ETJ),” the report concluded, “could be through a newly created fire protection service district, which would generate additional funding for the City of Graham to help support increasing costs for fire services. A cost share analysis between the City of Graham and Alamance County using multiple variables would be necessary to ensure that the cost structure between the city and the unincorporated area served is balanced.”

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