*This story first appeared in The Budget’s March 28, 2018, Local Edition.
By Stacey Carmany
After nearly two decades of planning, the Dover Fire Department is now within a year of opening a new substation on the north end of the city.
For nearly 20 years, Dover Fire Chief Volkert and city officials have watched as the northern part of the city continued to grow and develop, and they quickly realized that a second station in the northern part of the district would one day be necessary.
“We were tracking emergency responses in the northern part of our district, and each year, of course, it increased and, over a period of time, the area was more and more developed,” Chief Volkert explained. “It got to the point where it was evident that we needed to look at doing that.”
They identified an ideal location for the new station on Dublin Drive, directly across the street from Dover Buehlers and easily accessible to I- 77, and began to put aside money for the project.
Five years and $1.3 million later, the city is nearly ready to begin building. “We’re getting very, very close,” Chief Volkert shared. “We have 99 percent of the plans done.”
He noted that the station will initially consist of two bays, although it could easily be expanded to three should the need ever arise.
Once completed, the new substation will house an ambulance as well as a pumper fire engine that is equipped with a special device called a snozzle that is ideal for responding to larger fires. “You have the ability to put a large-caliper water stream on a larger fire where you need more reach and versatility,” Chief Volkert explained. “In a way, it’s kind of like a Swiss army knife. You have a lot of capability in a single package.”
Like the main station, the substation will also have around-the-clock staffing, with the money generated from a new 4-mill levy that passed in 2016 being used to increase the size of the force from 18 to 24 firefighters.
In addition to dramatically reducing the response time for calls from the northern part of the city, Volkert noted having a second station will also give the department the resources to better respond to back-to-back calls, which have also been on the rise. “We’ve been seeing those increase dramatically over the same period,” he explained. “Those are calls that come in within minutes or even seconds of each other.”
Because the vast majority of all calls made to the department – about 70 percent – are for ambulance services, he noted that the cost of constructing the station will be supplemented on a per-square-foot basis with money from the ambulance fund. “Obviously a great deal of the need for a second location relates directly to being able to provide ambulance services, so a portion of the cost will be born by the ambulance fund,” he explained.
Beyond just enhancing services for the individuals residing within the fire district, the expansion will also be beneficial to neighboring fire departments and the communities they serve, according to Chief Volk- ert. “Basically, it will enable us to better provide assistance when needed and still maintain coverage for our area,” he shared. “It’s being done primarily for the citizens of Dover, but the net effect is everybody is in a better position when bad things happen to have what is needed to deal with an emergency.”
In addition, the new location is also expected to reduce the response time for box alarm calls from neighboring areas, according to Chief Volkert. “In some areas, that help will be arriving much sooner because of the location,” he said. “It’s going to be right off Schneider’s Crossing. It’ll have quick access to the highway, so the response time to what are now pretty far-flung areas will be reduced considerably, inside and outside the corporation.”
He emphasized, however, that this type of assistance is by no means one-way, and the other departments are also available and willing to assist the Dover Fire Department whenever needed. “I can’t stress enough the cooperation between all our surrounding departments both ways,” he said. “It’s a great thing. It provides all the citizens throughout a very wide area with a very good level of protection and safety.”
The city is currently preparing to advertise and award bids for the project, and the hope is to break ground for the new facility some- time in June. Chief Volkert estimated that the total build time will be between eight and nine months, and the department will likely be able to occupy the new station next February or March.