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New Providence fire hall will take more than just a grant

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By TOMI L. WILEYSpecial to The Wilson Post

MT. JULIET -- Although a new Homeland Security grant to provide financial assistance directly to fire departments to build new or modify existing fire stations could jump start efforts to build a new fire hall in southern Mt. Juliet, chances of netting grant money is “unlikely” and upwards of a million dollars will be needed yearly to facilitate it, officials said Tuesday.

Local firefighter and Providence resident Shawn Donovan, who spearheaded and helped organize the newly-formed arm of Mt. Juliet volunteer firefighters, contacted Mt. Juliet City and Wilson County officials May 30 concerning a Department of Homeland Security Assistance to Firefighters Fire Station Construction Grants (FCS) program, which “will provide financial assistance directly to fire departments on a competitive basis to build new or modify existing fire stations in order for departments to enhance their response capability and protect the community they serve from fire and fire-related hazards.  The authority for FSC is derived from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009 (Public Law 111-5). Congress appropriated a total of $210 million for this Fiscal Year (FY) 2009 program.”

Donovan said he was forwarding the possible grant funding information to “officials of Mt. Juliet who have in the past discussed working with the county for construction of a new public safety facility in the Providence area.”

“Obviously with my family living in Providence, getting a fire station built on the land donated for this purpose by CPS Land is very important to me,” Donovan said. “This new grant program which is specifically earmarked for renovation of existing or construction of new facilities would be especially useful to the city and county with the current economic picture here. I hope that this money saving option is seriously looked into due to lack of adequate public safety resources in Mt. Juliet, especially in District 4 due to the extensive growth.”

That “current economic picture,” however, is one reason why Wilson County Emergency Management Agency Director John Jewell said Tuesday his office is not actively pursuing the grant funds. Jewell said WEMA Planning Officer Dee Lineberger, who facilitates grants for the agency, had investigated the FSC grant, which totals $210 million nationally. Jewell, as well as Mt. Juliet City Manager Randy Robertson, said Lineberger reported that the “likelihood of luck with getting the grant is around 2 percent.”

“One of the big requirements is that the grant goes to an economically deficient area because of all the things that have gone on recently,” Jewell said. “And while Wilson County has had its licks, we have not suffered at all the way a lot of areas have.”

Indeed, according to information from the Federal Emergency Management Agency literature about the FSC grants, priorities for the fiscal year 2009 Federal stimulus package FSC grants include: “projects in areas of the country where unemployment is the highest” and “projects that are ready to begin shortly afterward (i.e. applicant already owns land and has required permits in hand, etc).”

Jewell said that while the land is available – just over an acre was donated by CPS Land upon the development of the Providence area for construction of a future fire hall and police substation – a grant to build a new fire hall would only jump start the project: some $750,000 to $800,000 for payroll per year alone to staff that fire hall would also be needed.

“The cost of the station is minor compared to staff requirements,” Jewell noted, adding that he would want to see a staff of at least 15 people at the new station in Providence if it was built. “Grants get you started, but who’s going to pay the bills once that pretty little station is built?”

Jewell said that Wilson County currently has a “significant investment” in Mt. Juliet and the western portion of the county, including $600,000 to $700,000 invested in trucks and equipment before payroll, and that it takes a “very substantial stream of revenue to equip and supply a fire and rescue station.

“The revenue to do what needs to be done is significant,” Jewell said. “We’re looking at $300,000 for one pump truck, $100,000 for one ambulance, $750,000 to $1.5 million for anything in the ladder truck family, and that’s just rolling stock. That’s not manpower and payroll. With a new station you’re looking at a recurrence of payroll, trucks, equipment, a staff of at least five per shift per station, a total crew of 18 or 19, with a chief, an assistant chief, possibly a captain, communications, maintenance, service, insurance and so much more. That’s why we’re moving so slow (in West Wilson County), is because of the funding.”

Jewell said that a new fire hall in the Providence area, where Robertson said a definite shift in population has moved, would be ideal but with the correct personnel. He said “what no one’s taken into consideration” is how that new fire hall would be consistently funded, year after year.

Then he uttered the words dreaded by so many Mt. Juliet citizens far and wide.

“Keeping something like that up takes a very, very serious, consistent and solid source of revenue, and I’m not sure Mt. Juliet can do that without a property tax.”

Jewell said citizens of western Wilson County need to “use a little perspective,” and that “90 percent of calls are handled quite adequately.”

Jewell said that, in an ideal situation and if Mt. Juliet officials could “do something tomorrow,” he would suggest “roughly $750,000, a crew of seven and 90 days.

“To start immediately, I’d want to raise the number of firefighters at Station 3 (behind Mt. Juliet City Hall) from two to five. Secondly, I’d want $750,000 to $800,000 for a combination pumper and aerial truck. But Station 3 isn’t big enough for that, so I’d want to build a new fire hall. Where? The old (Mt. Juliet Elementary) school property is the perfect place for that.”

Robertson said Tuesday that after speaking with Jewell and hearing Lineberger’s assessment on the possibility of being awarded the grant that Jewell “didn’t say we weren’t qualified, but that we wouldn’t get it.”

Robertson added that Mt. Juliet Mayor Linda Elam has “an ongoing dialogue” with county officials about more fire and emergency protection in Mt. Juliet and is drafting a letter to county officials after a Town Hall meeting several months ago resulted in citizens’ obvious concern about the lack of local fire protection. Robertson said there is “a good pulse check from our volunteer efforts,” and he thinks the volunteers are “working out fairly well.”

Robertson said his first step in pursuing additional fire protection in the area would be combined research with WEMA to “study where calls are coming from” and collect data points. He added, though, that additional fire protection “is not embedded in this year’s budget.”

And according to Jewell, the main obstacle at this point to getting another fire station in Mt. Juliet, and the emergency personnel, equipment and vehicles to sustain it, is funding.

“We’re moving in the right direction, slowly, and everyone needs to realize there is a need,” he said. “Don’t panic, but realize it’s a small city down there, and we never can totally zero out the danger. There is a 10 percent chance of uncontrollability – there is always that chance of another S & S (major fire) or a fire at someplace like Rutland Place where people could die. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again, but the longer we wait, the more serious the problem gets.”

Editor’s Note: Tomi L. Wiley is the editor of The Chronicle of Mt. Juliet.

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