Work began this month on a new fire station that will be operated jointly by the Elizabeth and Rattlesnake Fire Protection Districts.
Located on a 10-acre parcel on Singing Hills Road just east of County Road 21, construction of the new fire facility is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.
Given the fact that officials from both agencies just broke ground on the joint project on Oct. 9, the rapid construction schedule is due, in part, to the fact that the facility's main structure is a prefabricated steel building that was delivered directly to the construction site earlier this month.
Elizabeth Fire Chief T.J. Steck said the projected cost to buy and set up the steel structure and purchase the necessary equipment to open the new station will be “somewhere around $200,000.”
“By building a joint station that serves both the Elizabeth and Rattlesnake Fire Protection areas, we figured we could save the taxpayers at least $2 or $3 million,” said Steck, who called the initial blueprints for the facility “a very simple design.
“Being on 10 acres, there's plenty of room for expansion,” Steck added. “But the true savings come from the fact that both agencies aren't duplicating the same facility just a few miles apart from each other.”
Barring any unforeseen delays, Steck said he expects the new facility should be operational in early 2014, protecting local residents and saving both fire districts — and area homeowners — a lot of money.
Operating a joint facility, staffed initially with volunteer firefighters, will allow both fire districts to save, Steck said. “We won't have to duplicate the purchase of new fire trucks, new ambulances, and other equipment,” he added, describing the joint effort as “being creative with funding” during tough economic times for Elbert County.
“We're very proud of the cooperation between the two agencies that made this happen,” Steck added. “The new station will help lower insurance rates for people who live in the area. But most importantly, it will lower response times for calls, making sure we get the emergency responders there sooner.”
The Elizabeth Fire Protection District covers 111 square miles surrounding Elizabeth.
The Rattlesnake Fire Protection District covers 66 square miles in the less densely populated northwest corner of the county.
With the increasing growth in northwest Elbert County in recent years, many area homeowners there have complained that they have been forced to pay exorbitantly high homeowners insurance rates because their homes were more than five miles from the nearest fire station.
Steck encouraged people living near the new station to check with their insurance companies, estimating that many could see as much as a 40 to 50 percent decrease in their homeowners insurance. “When the new facility is open in 2014,” Steck said, “folks living within a five-mile radius will be eligible for substantially lower insurance rates.”
Steck said current plans call for the new facility to be developed in three phases:
• Phase One includes opening the new station using the prefabricated steel structure and an all-volunteer staff or firefighters;
• Phase Two calls for the construction of a larger station equipped with training rooms and a larger, full-time staff of paid firefighters;
• Phase Three would allow the station to expand further and operate as a training facility, allowing firefighters to take part in “live burn” exercises.
Steck said the two agencies had yet to work out a timetable or estimated budget for developing the second and third phases.
“With 10 acres, we've got plenty of room to expand,” he said. “As that area continues to grow, so will the new station.”