'You can't put a price on saving lives:'
Residents sound the alarm on fire station consolidation
Posted: 05/03/2010 12:00:00 AM MDT
EL PASO -- Central residents are afraid they won't be as protected in an emergency if the city moves forward with a proposal to consolidate two small fire stations into one large, modern regional station. City officials have proposed a $3.4 million project to consolidate fire stations 5 and 13 into a seven-unit station. The alternative would be to rebuild each station, but doing that would cost about $1.6 million more. Fire Station 13, at 5415 Trowbridge, is 57 years old and does not meet current National Fire Protection Association standards. Fire Station 5, at 4240 Alameda, is 61 years old. "Politicians don't always have the people's best interest in mind," said Jose "J.J." Jimenez, president of the United Neighborhood Association. "If it's money they want, we'll raise it. You can't put a price on saving lives. We're going to fight this decision because we don't want to lose our station." Jimenez was among hundreds who met last week at Hillside Elementary School to express their concerns about the proposal to Fire Chief Otto Drozd and city Rep. Susie Byrd. The school's cafeteria echoed with shouts of disapproval throughout the meeting. "Change is hard for people," Drozd said. "The community loves their fire station and É I'm looking out for their best interest and trying to bring more resources to get them a higher level of response. There are other options, and nothing is set in stone." Drozd said the consolidation plan, if approved, would still be three to five years away. He said he wants to include members of public in the process and hear their comments before making any decisions. Byrd, who said the issue is not set to come before City Council soon, said she has much to consider before making a decision about the plan. In March, the City Council voted unanimously to authorize the city manager's staff to look for possible regional fire station sites, negotiate a land purchase and return to City Council with a contract for consideration. The residents "obviously feel very strongly about this and it's a tough one," Byrd said. "The primary goal is to get better service and response time to our emergencies. The chief said the additional services available at the new station would help, but the proximity is what's important here." The new station would be near Raynolds and Interstate 10, and residents argue that the location could double the response times to their homes, schools, churches, nursing homes and other heavily populated areas. But fire officials said the response times would be well within the acceptable range. "It just doesn't make any sense to me, and I don't see any benefit," said Cheri Dorsey, a Central homeowner for 17 years. "I see the fire stations like dormitories. It's the equipment that's responding to the calls. How much could it cost to upgrade the firefighters' living conditions and refurbish the building? The surrounding homes are older than the stations." Dorsey said she considered the distance from the fire station when she bought her home. She said she would lose her sense of security and safety if the station was moved. "It seems to me like the new location is just getting away from more private citizens," she said. "It's a hard location to get in and out of and farther away from Bassett Center and all the small businesses in between. How can it improve response time if the distance between point A and B is longer?" The existing fire stations do not house Emergency Medical Services units from the city. Fire Station 5 houses Pumper 5 and Ladder 5, and Fire Station 13 houses Pumper 13. Drozd said 80 percent of 911 calls are medical emergencies. He said the new fire station would include a medical unit for the area, increasing the services for the area. He said the station, which would be built using recycled materials and be more energy-efficient, would also be large enough to accommodate the 30 firefighters who work at the existing stations and 20 more who would be transferred from elsewhere in the city.