With demand nearly doubling over the past decade, the Georgetown Fire Department is about to undertake one of the largest expansions in its more than century-old history.
Georgetown firefighters responded to 9,517 emergency calls in 2017, up from 4,900 calls in 2007, according to department data. Since 2013, the department’s, annual call volume has increased by more than 57 percent, Fire Chief John Sullivan said.
“I can’t find in our history a period of time where we’ve had such dramatic growth in the demand for services that we’ve had over the last few years,” Sullivan said.
To increase capacity and relieve overburden on existing stations, Georgetown plans to open two new fire stations in 2019: one on Williams Drive southeast of Sun City and another near the intersection of Hwy. 29 and Inner loop east of the city’s downtown. Sullivan said an additional station in a yet-to-be-determined location could open within the next five years as well.
Georgetown joins other Williamson County cities with growing populations, including Leander and Round Rock, that have built new fire stations in recent years to handle increased emergency call volumes and to keep response times low.
Construction on Fire Station No. 6, located at 6700 Williams Drive, Georgetown, is expected to begin this summer, said Eric Johnson, the city’s capital improvement projects manager.
The new station is needed to address the volume of emergency calls and the response times in the area surrounding the intersection of Williams Drive and CR 3405, just northwest of Georgetown city limits, said Bobby Bunte, commission president for Williamson County Emergency Services District 8.
“That area has consistently shown to be our highest call volume [area]with extended response times,” Bunte said.
Fire Station No. 6 will cost about
$5 million to build, Bunte said. According to an agreement between the district and the city, ESD 8 will pay to build the new station while Georgetown will pay for maintenance and for its fire department to staff the new facility.
Along with garage bays, living quarters and other fire-service facilities, the new station will include a private treatment room as well as a community room, which will serve as a space for ESD 8 commission meetings and will be available for other community organizations to use for meetings as well.
ESD 8 will host a public meeting about the design for Fire Station No. 6 from 5-7 p.m. on March 22 at the Georgetown Public Safety Operations and Training Center, 3500 D.B. Wood Road, Georgetown.
Bunte said his district’s partnership with the city provides major benefits to ESD 8.
“The partnership allows the ESD to provide an excellent level of fire service by contracting with the city versus the level of service that we could provide if we were trying to do it on our own,” Bunte said. “There’s no way we could even come close to [the city’s]level of service. The Georgetown Fire Department is top-notch.”
Georgetown City Council voted Feb. 13 to approve a $478,400 contract with College Station-based Brown Reynolds Watford Architects for design, construction oversight, commissioning and project assessment for the city’s future Fire Station No. 7.
Expected to be about 12,000 square feet in size, Fire Station No. 7 will be located near the intersection of Hwy. 29 and Inner Loop in Georgetown. The city is in the process of buying land for the station’s construction, Johnson said.
Fire Station No. 7 should open within a few months of Fire Station No. 6’s opening, which is expected in mid-2019, Sullivan said.
“You’re going to see us having a better ability to improve our response for current as well as future growth that’s coming into the greater city area,” he said.
New facilities bring a need for additional personnel, and Sullivan said finding qualified applicants who have the skills and temperament necessary to fit with the department can be difficult to do on a large scale.
Funding new firefighter and paramedic positions is also a challenge for city budget planners.
“When it comes to staffing, it is very challenging for a city our size to bring on two stations at the same time,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said he has hired about 50 people since he joined the department as fire chief in 2013. He said the department would need to hire about 20 more personnel for the two new stations when they open in 2019.
Sullivan said with the hiring market for firefighters and other personnel “very tight” right now, the department has boosted efforts over the past several years to attract applicants.
“We’ve had to hold multiple academies to be able to hire the right people,” Sullivan said. “[We] get a lot of applications but not everybody is the right fit, and we want people who truly love the community; they love to serve; they love to help; and they possess skills that are needed for a community like ours.”
While Georgetown firefighters are handling more emergency calls, their average call-to-door response times have fallen over the past several years.
Call-to-door response times averaged about 6 minutes, 20 seconds in 2017, compared to more than 6 minutes, 55 seconds in 2014, according to department data.
Sullivan said decreased response times are aided by the fire department’s practice of hiring paramedics to staff each of its emergency units and the city’s priority-dispatch system that works as a sort of triage to determine the level of assistance necessary for each 911 call.
Using information gathered from callers, dispatchers determine the severity of an emergency using a five-level ranking system, which helps to assess whether additional units might be needed. Sullivan said it is helpful from a resource standpoint if a less serious emergency can be handled by a fire engine rather than requiring both an engine and an ambulance or other unit respond.
“We’ve given continued attention to try to be efficient with the use of resources and balance that out with our effectiveness,” Sullivan said.