City of St. George set to expand its firefighting capabilities

Firefighters respond to the scene of a fire in St. George, Utah, April 8, 2018 | File photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — As St. George grows, city officials say they recognize the need to hire additional firefighters and construct new fire stations.

City Manager Adam Lenhard said there are major changes planned for the St. George Fire Department.

“St. George is kind of unique,” he said. “For a city of our size, we have relied heavily on volunteer firefighters, and you don’t see that much anymore.”

The decades-old volunteer firefighter program, which will remain in place for the time being, will be augmented by paid staff in the future.

“We will continue to incorporate our volunteers into our firefighting efforts as long as we can but recognize the need to transfer to a full-time, professional firefighting staff,” Lenhard said.

During the past two fiscal years, the city has hired 12 full-time firefighters, and this is just the start, Lenhard added.

Firefighters tackling blaze in two-story home on Price Hills Drive, St. George, Utah, May 24, 2019 | Photo courtesy of Annie Van Batavia,St. George News

“In the future, we will continue to strengthen our fire department and provide it with the personnel that we feel is necessary to give adequate coverage in the city,” Lenhard said. “Every time you staff a fire station, you need a minimum of nine full-time positions because they are a 24-hour-a-day, seven-days-a-week operation.”

Currently the city staffs three of its seven fire stations with full-time personnel with plans to shift Station 6 located at 184 N. 2450 East away from a volunteer staff in the near future. The City Council has not yet approved the funding for the transition.

Along with hiring professional staff, the city is looking at new construction.

“We are in the final stages of design of what will be our newest fire station in Little Valley in the Meadow Valley Farms Subdivision,” Lenhard said, noting that the fire station will be fully staffed and be built over the next 18 months.

The other issue on the horizon, Lenhard said, which is becoming “more urgent every day” is fire station coverage for Desert Color and Desert Canyons subdivisions located in the south block of the city along state Route 7 — the Southern Corridor.

Project area for the Desert Color development in an area referred to as the south block of the city of St. George. | Image courtesy of the city of St. George, St. George News

“Desert Canyons is well underway with hundreds of homes at the intersection of River Road and Southern Corridor, and then moving west over towards Sun River you’ve got Desert Color, which is going vertical with at least 50 homes that are under construction.”

As people move into these subdivisions and other anticipated growth in the area, the city believes it could attract an additional 30,000 residents to the southern block.

“When this happens, it will create the necessity for one or possibly two new fire stations,” Lenhard said. “Eventually you will see a lot of activity in this area that will be a major part of our city. We understand a fire station or fire stations will be needed in the next couple of years.”

The primary criteria for any future fire station are reasonable response times, Lenhard explained. Currently, there is one active fire station in SunRiver that provides adequate response time out to Desert Canyons, he said. However, if there were multiple incidences, the response from stations in Dixie Downs or downtown would take longer, something the city wants to avoid.

One component of bringing new stations online is how they positively impact the city’s Insurance Services Office (ISO) rating, which affects residential and commercial fire insurance costs.

An evening fire at a building in the Canyon Pointe Apartments complex off Dixie Drive displaces the residents of 10 units, St. George, Utah, Sept. 8, 2019 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

The ISO is based on a 1-10 rating, with one being the best. The criteria used is largely calculated on the miles it takes to drive to an incident. The city of St George has a rating of 3.

“The big challenge to our ISO rating is our geographical layout,” St. George Fire Chief Robert Stoker said. “We have a lot of barriers with Interstate 15 that runs through the center of the city along with the Virgin River that runs west and east of the Black Ridge.”

Even though a fire station may be close as the “crow flies,” getting around the natural and manmade barriers adds mileage to the trip, Stoker added.

Other future fire station construction, Stoker said, is based on growth but could be expected in The Ledges north of town, west of Tonaquint and west of Sunbrook.

“We do have quite a few stations proposed once the city gets built out,” he said.

Construction of fire stations is paid for through impact fees.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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