Chiefs look forward to improved response times, training grounds

A new public safety facility that has been in the works for several years will soon be a reality in Southlake.

City officials anticipate that the new Southlake Department of Public Safety North Training Facility will decrease response times, improve the city's ISO ratings and help save money spent on training.

"When you're talking heart attack or you're talking a structure fire, seconds are crucial," Southlake Fire Chief Michael Starr said.

The building, which will house three bays for fire equipment, three training classrooms, an underground firing range, a small clinic and more, will cost around $13.3 million to construct and about $3 million to furnish. The majority of that money will come from the Crime Control and Prevention District budget, which gets its funding from a half-cent sales tax.

"I want to express my level of gratitude and appreciation for the taxpayers' support of the Department of Public Safety and public servants," Police Chief Stephen Mylett said.

From conception to completion

The idea to have three fire stations — one each in the north, east and west areas of the city — existed for many years, Starr said, and the north station was originally going to be the Department of Public Safety headquarters. A study undergone in 2005, however, recommended that the city switch its primary DPS station to the eastern district of the city.

Still, the north facility's construction began sooner than planned. On May 15, the City Council approved the facility, along with its guaranteed maximum price of $13,315,693.

"A lot of it had to do with staffing — being able to staff it," Starr said. "Like I said, we anticipated building this station and set that funding up through Crime Control, but we were able to start staffing it sooner than expected."

The building's construction at 100 E. Dove is scheduled to begin July 29, and it should take about 14 months, Starr said. Changing response times

In the current configuration of fire stations, the northern portion of Southlake is served by the DPS East facility.

As a result, response times to the north district of Southlake have been as long as 8 minutes 16 seconds, plus a dispatch and turn out time of about 60 seconds each, Starr told the council on May 15. That means more than 10 minutes pass from call to crisis management. During that time, flashover — in which heat causes the near-simultaneous combustion of items in a room, creating a fully developed fire and killing occupants within seconds — can occur.

"[Flashover] causes more damage, causes increase in fire, and the chance of someone surviving that is pretty much zero, which requires us to call in additional resources, more water, that sort of thing," Starr said.

In addition, he said, if someone is in cardiac arrest for more than 10 minutes, they can become brain dead.

The standard for the travel time for the fire department, Starr said, is around 6 minutes 30 seconds. But he said he expects the new station will help the fire department have about a 5 minute travel time in the north district.

Starr said completing training inside Southlake will also keep responders close enough that they can still react to a call, and it will prevent the potential problem of one station having to cover the entire city while another station's personnel goes elsewhere to train.

Cutting insurance costs

Residents living in the north district of Southlake could save about 23 percent on their homeowner's insurance after the new station opens, because of an improved Insurance Services Office rating.

To achieve a better ISO rating, there must be a fire station within a 5 mile radius of the home being insured. Although the city has an ISO rating of 4 overall currently, the north district has one of 9, Starr said.

The goal of the city, however, is to bring its overall ISO rating down to a 2, which could translate into an additional 10 percent savings on homeowner's insurance.

Costs vs. benefits

The estimated annual cost for the facility for things such as utilities is $200,000 to $225,000. Like the headquarters near Southlake Town Square, the new building will feature energy-efficient lights on motion sensors and water-saving plumbing. It is also going to be constructed with the goal of being LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, certified, Starr said.

The salary for the 12 people who will staff the fire station — six will be hired in January 2013 and another six in January 2014 — will cost around $1 million annually, Starr said. After they are added, the city will have 63 firefighters.

Both chiefs hope to save money the city has spent on out-of-city training.

"We're looking more and more to try and conduct training within our own city limits, because there are expenses that are incurred by sending our officers elsewhere," Mylett said.

The fire department also hopes to do most of its training in-house; it budgeted $36,000 last year for training.

"I would expect a pretty significant decrease in that cost," Starr said.