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OFR asking for help from city

April 28, 2019 GMT

As the city of Odessa continues to grow, Odessa Fire Rescue is struggling to keep up with growing needs, and they’re asking the city for help.

Fire Chief John Alvarez met with the Odessa City Council this week to tell them about many of their needs, both immediate and long-term. Among those needs, are at least two new fire stations, one in Lawndale near 87th Street, and another near JBS Parkway between 52nd Street and East Loop 338.

Odessa hasn’t built an additional fire station since 1983, Alvarez said, which has led to them not being able to keep up with the services needed today. He said there had been four fire stations that had been rebuilt in that time.

“And we’re overworking the department,” Alvarez said. “We had a structure fire in Lawndale, and we did not meet that response time.”

The typical response time they try to meet is about 5 minutes and 20 seconds, Alvarez said, but their engine didn’t get there until almost 7 minutes after receiving the call. And that was from the closest station, Station No. 8, at 301 E. Yukon.

Alvarez said they are also the primary responders for fires and medical services in Ector County as well, taking over for the West Odessa Volunteer Fire Department after their former Fire Chief, Jimmy Ellis, was indicted on the charge of property theft.

“They’re pretty much gone,” Alvarez said about WOVFD.

Precinct 1 County Commissioner Eddy Shelton said WOVFD is in a restructuring phase, and that it was agreed that OFR would act as the primary responder for the time being.

“We are in the process of rebuilding it, getting it back to where it’s functioning in a high capacity,” Shelton said. “There’s a need for it and we’ll continue to support it.”

Part of the problem for OFR is not just the lack of additional fire stations, but the lack of staff in general. OFR is 16 personnel short as of this week. Alvarez said they have a marketing and recruitment committee turned on high gear, and are reaching out to neighboring communities, military bases, and even Houston, where more than 250 firefighters may be about to be laid off.

“We’ve got to fill what we have right now today to make things work,” Alvarez said.

One other immediate need Alvarez said OFR has is the relocation of Station No. 6, 3414 Brentwood Ave., to the intersection of Maple Avenue and Grandview Avenue. City Manager Michael Marrero said ideally, they hope all of the land for these new locations would be donated by the owners.

But all of these immediate needs have a pretty heavy cost, about $43.565 million. Alvarez said they also would have to hire an additional 52 to man these new stations, an additional $4 million annually. This would also lead to the creation of a second battalion to handle half of the city, as there is currently only one battalion overseeing all of Odessa. Marrero said this wouldn’t be something they could issue debt for either, because it falls under operational costs. There’s also the longer-term need of reconstructing Fire Stations Nos. 2 and 3, located at 1801 E. Murphy Ave. and 5151 E. University Blvd., respectfully.

“Say the conversation comes down to either building two new ones or rebuilding six, what would fire want?” Mayor David Turner asked Alvarez. “Because I don’t think you can get it all.”

Alvarez told Turner if they could get six stations rebuilt big enough, they would be able to put additional units and ambulances there, and said there currently wasn’t enough square footage in the stations right now to operate as well.