Study will reveal options, costs to address The Woodlands Fire Department future facility needs

The Woodlands Fire Department conducted a study of its facility needs. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
The Woodlands Fire Department conducted a study of its facility needs. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

The Woodlands Fire Department conducted a study of its facility needs. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

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Faced with worsening structural conditions at Fire Station No. 5 on West Branch Crossing Drive, The Woodlands Fire Department has conducted a construction analysis of the building this year so it can be repaired and rendered suitable for a second company to locate at the facility, Fire Chief Palmer Buck said.

Built in 2003, the station serves Carlton Woods, Indian Springs and Sterling Ridge in the western portions of the township. It houses one fire company and one medic unit, but the original plan was to house two fire companies, according to information from the township. Since some of the space is now occupied by a medic unit, the facility will need an expansion to allow for construction of sleeping quarters for a second company, Chief Buck said.

“When we built the station, it was built in size to hold two fire companies and so sometime after we opened ... Montgomery County Hospital District asked to put an ambulance in,” Buck said. “So they’ve been running out of there for a few years ... but still would like to have a second company in there.”

However, the building has been an issue since 2009 due to structural movement, Buck said. The movement could be due to faultlines in the township, he said. A 2009 building engineering study by Terracon Consultants examined some of these issues, and a second study conducted in 2019 identified new as well as previously unidentified issues, Buck said.

The township budgeted $120,000 for a construction analysis of Stations 3, 4 and 5 as well as the Emergency Training Center in its 2020 budget, and the results of that study will likely be shared with township officials in late October, Buck said. The study has been completed, but the township’s new general manager and president, Jeff Jones, who took over Sept. 1 from Don Norrell, needed additional time to familiarize himself with the history and details of the projects before it is presented, Buck said.

The total cost of facility improvements at the various facilities are estimated at about $14 million-$15 million, according to information from 2019 study presented in the 2021 budget. That includes the Branch Crossing station as well as stations at Sawdust Road, Bay Branch Drive and its I-45 Fire Training Center.

“This level of costs is in excess of annual budget capabilities and may need to be funded through the issuance of debt obligations,” information in the budget states.

The addition of a second company at the township’s Station No. 5, the westernmost facility in the township, will allow for better response times during simultaneous incidents, according to information in the budget. The second company would include 15 personnel, with a cost of $1.8 million annually as well as the need for an additional fire engine.

“We’ve added a number of vehicles to our frontline fleet as we’ve approached buildout ... over the last 10 years. ... That gives us some flexibility as well for some equipment that we need, such as high-profile vehicles in the event of flooding,” Buck said.

The next step after the township receives results of the study will be to determine how to fund the needs and continue to work efficiently, he said.

Although the fire department budget for the 2021 fiscal year—which runs from January to December—is $237,448 greater than the previous year’s budget, the increases are mainly due to personnel costs, and the board of directors rejected several initiatives for additional administrative positions in the August budget talks.
By Vanessa Holt
A resident of the Houston area since 2011, Vanessa began working in community journalism in her home state of New Jersey in 1996. She joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2016 as a reporter for the Spring/Klein edition and became editor of that paper in March 2017 and editor of The Woodlands edition in January 2019.