County heralds opening of Company 7 fire station

By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: June 21, 2019 | 12:30 p.m.

State-of-the-art facility opens with dozens of hand to celebrate

PRINCE GEORGE – A mix of sun and clouds couldn’t outshine the smiles on the faces of the county’s public safety officials and members of the community as the county gathered for the formal dedication of the Company 7 fire station just off Route 10.

Last Sunday, dozens of people shuttled from River’s Edge Bible Church along James River Drive to the new station at the corner of Route 10 and Moody Road for a special ceremony marking the completion of a project that dates back nearly five years, in terms of funding allocation.

Supervisors joined the county’s fire and EMS leadership for the dedication and open house as the community was given the opportunity to walk through and see the nearly 11,000-square-foot building, featuring three double bays, allowing for the comfortable storage of fire apparatus, living and sleeping quarters that will be utilized by the staff selected to serve the community out of the new station, and brickwork to accentuate the building’s pre-engineered structure.

Those massive vehicle bays served as the venue for last Sunday’s ceremony as nearly every one of the over 100 chairs across three sprawling tables were filled with residents, firefighters, and others in the community as they all sat inside a building that, only a year or so earlier, was a drawing on an easel in the main lobby of the county’s administration building.

Joining members of the Prince George Board of Supervisors last Sunday at Company 7 were some of the county’s state-level delegation members, Senator Frank Ruff and Delegate Emily Brewer, who both offered pointed words of encouragement to the county’s leadership and the community as this new asset prepares to come online.

“I wanted to let you all know how important it is that this county has made a high commitment to public safety in this county,” Brewer shared. “There are places across the state that don’t have things that are this nice and this beautiful, so I thank the board of supervisors for making this happen.”

The delegate continued, “While we are here to celebrate a ribbon cutting, one of the things we need to also talk about is the sacrifice that a lot of our firefighters make each and everyday to make sure that we are safe. They are seeing us on one of our worst days of our lives, whether it is medical emergencies or a fire at our homes, or a host of other reasons.”

An overarching message that was shared during last Sunday’s grand opening was one of thanks and appreciation for the risk and sacrifices made by firefighters each day they put on their turnout gear and climb into a fire engine on their way to a blaze, risks that can stay with firefighters years after their service ends.

“Firefighters specifically suffer a rate or cancer or medical incidents at a higher rate than the rest of the general public,” she said. So while we them sometimes during our worst day, sometimes, their worst days are still yet to come. They do this job facing great sacrifices and we need to thank them for the job they do everyday.”

The message from Brewer was underscored by the powerful testimony of Adrian Manning, a former county employee and someone who knows the sacrifices of a life in fire services as he valiantly fights a battle with Stage 3 cancer that he said was likely contracted early in his career when he and other firefighters didn’t have access to some of the health and safety advances that are present inside Company 7, such as the turnout gear storage room, which keeps that gear out of living areas and separate from its ventilation system, washers to extract contaminants from the gear, and other safety features.

For Manning, the point he was making to firefighters listening was simple – use these assets to keep themselves safe.

“These are state-of-the-art advances that not every locality can provide to their crews and Prince George has done so,” he said. “For the men and women of Prince George Fire and EMS, both career and volunteer, as someone who is going through the fight currently, I encourage you, anytime you fight a fire or you are exposed to potential toxins, take advantage of these services that have been offered to you in this station so you do not take it home to your families, and hopefully you do not have to fight the fight that I am having to fight currently.”

Talking to attendees and serving as one of the key people involved with the conception and opening of Company 7 was Burrowsville Volunteer Fire Department Chief John Nicol, who was moved to see something that had been talked about as early as the 1990s come to fruition.

“It was almost like a Christmas present, seeing it arrive right in front of our eyes,” he said. “Not a day has gone by that we didn’t spent days and hours communicating back and forth, making sure that everything was done.”

According to Nicol, the potential life saving effects of this new station are real and tangible with staffing and a significant reduction in response times.

“With the board’s approval, we get to put people in this station 24-7,” he said. “Starting next month in the July timeframe as it comes in, this station will be staffed 24-7 with two paid people to respond to the calls when it is after 7 p.m. and the volunteers that live in the area won’t be able to respond.

“This is a combination station… this is what we set out to do: To be able to recruit and retain,” Nicol remarked, keeping his promise from 2017 of working to bring on more volunteers to help staff the station.

After a special ribbon cutting, the building was opened up to the community to allow for tours and the dozens on hand bonded over a special meal while sitting at tables inside the station’s vehicle bays.

With Company 7 now complete, the county’s work in regards to investments in public safety infrastructure continues as Prince George prepares to replace one of their aging fire stations on the opposite end of the county.

As part of their annual spring borrowing this year, supervisors approved $3.2 million in funding for the construction of a new Jefferson Park fire station to replace its current and deteriorating home.

As recently as the winter of this year and dating back well into 2018, residents have said they are concerned about the impact the building’s well-known issues, such as its foundation, cracking in walls, among others could have on the future of the building and fire and rescue response in the area.

The station itself dates back to the late 1980s during a time when the county was fighting annexation from the cities of Hopewell and Petersburg, with Fire and EMS Director Owens explaining, “The county had to scramble and put in some public safety measures in that area so the fire station was built.”

Years later, the very ground the station is built on has become a detriment as the effects of shrink-swell soil are known and understood a lot better than they were at the time of the station’s construction. This type of soil, also known as expansive soil can change in volume significantly, depending on its moisture content. This can spell trouble for foundations and, as in the case of the Jefferson Park Fire Station, has resulted in cracks appearing in the walls at the station.

According to Owens, now was the right time to prepare to build a new Jefferson Park Fire Station.

“It has served its purpose for what it was built for in 1987, but they have outgrown it,” he said. “We are now running an ambulance, EMS out of the building where before it was just for fire protection so they have a very active membership there that interacts with our career staff who pull duty together so we have a lot of people who are there so it is about time.”

No formal timetable has been announced regarding the new Jefferson Park Fire Station and its expected completion.

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