Newton Grove Fire & Rescue Inc. has begun a nearly $400,000 expansion project that aims to add a firefighter fitness area and larger bays for trucks and equipment, to include a newly purchased fire engine that officials hope, combined with the renovations, will improve the town’s fire rating and set a solid foundation for the future.
Ground was broken recently for an approximately 3,000 square foot addition that will be used for a new bay area at the station, located at 313 Weeksdale St., Newton Grove. The project will also include renovations to the office and meeting area as well as 2,000 square feet for future expansion.
Fire chief Joey Eason said the project will create space for the department, whose personnel and equipment have little of it currently.
“We’ve got two back-in bays and they are slammed full with the trucks we have now,” said Eason. “We have no room to even walk. The two back-in bays will be eliminated and enclosed. We’re going to close those bays in to make more office space, add some offices and also put in a weight room so there can be more cardio and physical fitness available for firemen to stay fit.”
With 16 feet high ceilings in the current station, there is enough space to allow for a second floor area to be put in at a fairly moderate price, Eason noted. “Our ceiling is so high, we’re going to add a second floor. It’ll stay blank for now, but we’ll put bathrooms and showers in there.”
Additionally, the new 85 foot by 40 foot addition will bring enough space for the trucks to be parked, and ensure the department will have room well into the future.
“It just gives us more room and gives us more office space. All our equipment is crammed into one small hole right now,” Eason said. “This gives us more room to get another engine — we already bought one out of Wake County — parked at the station. “
Being able to safely and comfortably accommodate that third fire truck puts Newton Grove Fire & Rescue in a prime position to improve the department, service to the community and ultimately the Insurance Service Office (ISO) rating.
The department was successful in its bid to lower its rating back in October 2008, the last time it was graded, when the rating went from 9 to 7. That has translated into insurance savings of around $200 annually for homeowners, Eason noted. He is hoping the rating will come down again.
The third engine has allowed the department to meet the 3,500 gallon per minute requirement associated with a 6 rating, something it was not able to reach during the 2008 evaluation — the renovations will assist in that regard.
“We’re meeting right now. We’re crammed full because we chose to do that,” said Eason. “Hopefully, with that third engine and the renovations, hopefully we can get that to a 6. I’m not promising anything, but that is our goal.”
According to Eason, ISO grading usually happens every five years. A department can request such a visit, but departments receiving their first ISO rating are often given priority over those getting reevaluated for a possible rating upgrade, Eason said. There is also a backlog with only so many inspectors to visit all departments across the state.
“After the construction is done, we’re going to try to work hard on this thing,” Eason said. “They’ll probably be coming down in 2013 or 2014.”
The department was officially approved for financing, with that assistance being provided by First Citizens Bank and Trust Company. At the request of Eason, the Sampson County Board of Commissioners signed off on proceeding with the project at its meeting this month.
The board approved a tax-exempt loan to Newton Grove Fire & Rescue from First Citizens in the principal amount of $384,500 for the construction of an addition on the existing fire station for the volunteer fire department including the purchase of underlying real property.
“We financed this for 20 years,” said Eason, “but we always try to pay it off a little earlier.”
Construction started last week and project superintendent Braxton Carter said he expects the building to be completed shortly after the first of the year. The addition is being hooked to the county water system and concrete is expected to be poured for the foundation next week, Eason said.
Along with paving the way for the future, the upgrades and purchase of equipment have also acted to meet the demands of the present. Newton Grove Fire & Rescue, a truly community organization made up of close to 40 personnel, all volunteers, has seen call volume increase in recent years. Eason said that trend, which is being experienced at other community fire and rescue departments, will likely only continue.
“Our call numbers have gone up throughout the years,” said Eason. “It just keeps increasing every years. About five or six years ago, we responded to 210 fire calls. This year, that will be close to 300 calls.”
Eason said the $400,000 project helps show a long-term investment to serve the Newton Grove and surrounding area.
“All that really and truly benefits the community,” he remarked. “With the kind of room we’re adding on, this fire department should never have to be built on again.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.