North Columbia County Fire Chief Tom McFarland stands in front of the Eubank Blanchard Community Center, which will become the fire department headquarters for the new fire district.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
The Eubank Blanchard Community Center sits in the middle of the 150-square-mile fire district formed when the Appling, Leah and Winfield volunteer fire departments merged earlier this year into the North Columbia Fire and Rescue.
And the 20-plus acre lot that houses the center might soon become the hub of the department's operations, Pam Tucker, the county's Emergency Services division director, said during a recent meeting.
"In order to be able to control 10 square miles, we have to have a headquarters," North Columbia Fire Chief Tom McFarland said. "It is such an obvious location. It is the hub in the middle of the wheel. Look at the intersection and the three fire districts, that is where all three come together."
Plans are to build the department's ninth station as a headquarters on the same site close enough to connect two buildings so firefighters can have free use of the center's meeting room, restrooms and large industrial kitchen, Tucker said.
The building is estimated to cost $600,000. Funds from the 1-cent sales tax will pay for the construction if it is approved by voters on the July 20 referendum. If approved, design and construction will begin as soon as possible, Tucker said.
The area was listed as one that needed a fire station in the county's 1997 fire study and again in last year's updated study. Columbia County currently leases space to Gold Cross Emergency Medical Service to house an ambulance at the center.
"This is probably one of the most surest things that has been agreed upon by everybody - the fire departments and the county - for many years," Tucker said. "It is central to their fire service area and just makes a great location. You've got your ambulance service right there. It is just a huge piece of property the county owns."
The department will also be taking over the rental of the community center by setting fees, scheduling and cleaning the center, Tucker said.
All rental fees will go to the department, that as a newly merged organization of three volunteer departments, can always use the money, McFarland said.
The building will be designed to accommodate office space, sleeping quarters for firemen and a small kitchen. McFarland said the department is asking that the truck bay area be large as Martinez Fire Department's new headquarters building to hold three, 80-foot truck bays with door on both ends to house a tanker, a pumper, the Gold Cross ambulance, a service van and a rescue truck, McFarland said.
"It started with one idea then expanded into, 'Wow, we should have thought of that sooner,"' Tucker said. "(The center) is just not used to the potential it should be."
With money saved by the county taking over the department's truck maintenance costs, Tucker said the department will be hiring four full-time paid staff members, including three firefighters. A supervisor also will be hired and stationed at the new headquarters.
Because personnel will be at the center and headquarters station nearly 80 percent of the time, the center should be unlocked for use of restrooms and other amenities by residents using the track or playground.
Until the headquarters is built, a modular building is being purchased for the site as a temporary administration building.
"We look forward to this new facility," McFarland said. "It's a long process, and it takes a while. You just don't build a fire station in a few minutes ... but it is neat to know it is coming."
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