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Split between two buildings, N.A. Public Safety Chief says department need more space

June 18, 2018

North Augusta Department of Public Safety currently operates out of two main buildings, neither of which were initially designed or built to house Public Safety. Both were used as municipal centers for the City government. When the current fire station off Buena Vista Avenue was built, fire trucks were smaller and so were the buildings downtown.

Now, as the City and the trucks are both growing in size, North Augusta is looking to build a new Fire Station No. 1 and a Public Safety headquarters.

The City has included $10.5 million for the headquarters in their Capital Projects Sales Tax IV list to be voted on in November, and North Augusta Public Safety Chief John Thomas explains why they’re needed.

The current fire station on Buena Vista Avenue was built in 1954, Thomas said, and, as the trucks were smaller then, the bays in which to house the trucks aren’t large enough to park the City’s ladder truck in.

“The fire apparatus that we buy today is much wider and much longer, especially the ladder truck.” he said.

“The ladder truck is 47 feet long and it’s about 12 feet wide, so obviously being able to house that, because the truth of the matter is, that piece of equipment is right at a million dollar investment, so we have to take care of that investment.”

The ladder truck also allows firefighters to more easily battle larger fires in bigger buildings. It’s currently housed at a fire station off Belvedere-Clearwater Road, which can be 10 to 12 minutes from downtown and the riverfront, where those bigger buildings are located.

A new, more centrally-located site for the facilities would also improve response time.

“Being centrally located, being where we need to be is going to improve the response time and the fact that we can get there quicker, fighting some of these fires and knocking them down as quickly as we can so we can save some lives,” Thomas said.

“Personally, if my house is on fire, my personal effects, my children, my pets, everything that I own is in that home. For me to get that firefighter there quicker is of the uttermost importance to me. You know, I’ve seen people lose absolutely everything in their life,” he said.

In 2016, the City purchased land on Georgia Avenue – the spot where Seven Gables was located – to build both of the new facilities on, but have received pushback from residents regarding zoning and historical status.

The City doesn’t yet have funds on hand to build the headquarters like they do the fire station, but Thomas said a new headquarters is needed.

He said Public Safety is chasing new technology every day, and a new headquarters with space to grow for the future is needed.

“We also don’t have an emergency operations center,” Thomas said, “Which if there’s a catastrophe or a tornado or some big event that we need to be able to operate from, we don’t have that building here. We don’t have the IT equipment that’s needed here and we don’t have the space obviously.”

The building has also had issues with mold and mildew, which was abated within the past year, but leaves Public Safety with unusable areas.

“Obviously i think it’s a morale issue,” Thomas said.

“It’s tough enough to be a Public Safety employee in today’s time when you read about what’s going on in the country, but you know one of my jobs is to make sure people understand that we’re trying our dead level best to get to that point. It is frustrating, you can see the condition of the building and obviously it needs to be looked at.”

Residents of Aiken County will vote in November on Capital Projects Sales Tax IV, which includes the new headquarters.

Regarding location of these new facilities, the North Augusta Planning Commission voted unanimously against recommending that City Council rezone the historic land on Georgia Avenue for Public Use, a zone that would allow the fire station and eventually a headquarters to be built. City Council has not yet voted on the rezoning.

Chief Thomas said Public Safety has due dilligence to make sure that everyone in the City of North Augusta is protected.

“My responsibility is to protect the lives and the property of people in this city, that’s first and foremost, and our guys and girls do a tremendous job, they really do, and we have the support of majority of people in this city who love public safety, and that’s what we enjoy doing and we just want to thank the people that support us and thank Council for approving and making these things happen,” he said.