ESD 10, which serves the Greater Magnolia area, also is in the early planning stages of rebuilding stations 182 and 186, located on FM 2978, which would improve living quarters for firefighters and increase the number of staff that can be housed there to better emergency response capabilities. The rebuild projects are slated for 2024 at the earliest, Hevey said.
The facility projects come as ESD 10’s 164-square-mile service area is believed to have more than 32,000 single-family lots under development, according to data reports, Hevey said.
“We’ll never get ahead; we’re trying to keep up with the development and the amount of financing that we get from the citizens,” Hevey said.
On Nichols Sawmill Road, remodeling is underway at Station 183 to expand living space for emergency medical services personnel with the Montgomery County Hospital District, who also are stationed out of the facility, Hevey said.
Larry Smith, president of the ESD 10 board of commissioners, said in a Nov. 3 interview the modernization of Station 183 will help improve response times for EMS by housing them alongside the firefighters as well as living conditions for both parties there.
“These guys live there a lot; they spend a lot of time there, and we need to make sure their accommodations are good, not just acceptable,” Smith said. “We’re trying to make sure they have the facilities that are up to date and modern. ... We’re trying to keep up [and] modernize our facility so that the apparatus can be housed appropriately, because some of these facilities, they barely have enough room for the trucks to back in.”
Additional upgrades at Station 183 include creating seven bedrooms rather than a shared sleeping area, relocating the stairwell and renovating the apparatus bay to meet safety standards, Hevey said.
A room will be added beside the apparatus bay equipped with negative pressure to store protective clothing so it is not exposed to diesel exhaust, and a separate washroom will be built to clean protective clothing and contaminated uniforms, he said.
“That’s bringing our fire station up to what the new standards are for fire stations to have those separate rooms, to have the protective clothing vented outside ... and it’s not being exposed to diesel fumes inside,” Hevey said.
The remodel is expected to wrap up in July 2023, Hevey said, with temporary housing moved into place for fire and EMS personnel in the interim.
In Pinehurst, ESD 10 is building a maintenance and logistics facility at FM 1774 and Lone Star Lane beside Station 187, which will allow more in-house vehicle maintenance and the ability to elevate two apparatus at a time for repairs without taking up space doing maintenance in a fire station, Hevey said.
The maintenance and logistics facility is expected to be completed in January 2024, Hevey said.
Collectively, the two projects are funded by an $8 million loan, he said.
“We’re going to move all of our vehicle maintenance out there,” he said.
The projects follow the transition of ESD 10 and the Magnolia Volunteer Fire Department from two entities to one organization in January 2022 as ESD 10 ESD became the direct provider of fire services for the Magnolia area, according to previous reporting.
Since a changeup in the board of commissioners and the fire chief in 2021 alongside the transition, Hevey said the ESD 10 commissioners have strived to keep all nine stations open and staffed 24/7.
“When we first took over, there were stations that were closing down,” Smith said “I told Chief Hevey right away. I said, ‘This is not acceptable.’ And so far, in the last 8-10 months, I don’t think we’ve had one station close down. ... We’ve managed to hire new people and keep those stations open 24/7 the way they’re supposed to be.”
To keep stations staffed, the organization has hired 24 additional full-time firefighters in 2021, Hevey said. In 2023, Hevey said he hopes to hire another 18-24 full-time firefighters and bring on 10 volunteers.
Alongside more staff and the two ongoing facility projects, Hevey said he anticipates rebuilding stations 182 and 186 on FM 2978 from the ground up as early as 2024, which are currently in design.
“We have to modernize our facilities in order to keep up. ... This board took over in 2021, and we found out that we were so far behind, and we’re still trying to play catch up,” Smith said.
Hevey said he is also in discussions with land developers for locations to construct two more fire stations in Magnolia, projects likely to commence in 2025 and 2026 to help keep up with growth across the district.
“There’s more property being developed north of [FM] 1488 that’s going to require another station,” Smith said. “This place is exploding, and the thing about it is ... the scene is changing. We’re no longer just a rural country bumpkin town. It’s getting more urbanized by the year. ... That’s going to change the way we fight fires.”