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2018-04-11 / Featured / Front Page

County plans new fire station in Midlothian

BY JIM McCONNELL STAFF WRITER


If plans are approved by the county, Chesterfield Fire and EMS will relocate its existing fire station on Midlothian Turnpike, in the heart of Midlothian Village, to a new, larger facility just down the road near Charter Colony Parkway. 
PHOTOS BY ASH DANIEL If plans are approved by the county, Chesterfield Fire and EMS will relocate its existing fire station on Midlothian Turnpike, in the heart of Midlothian Village, to a new, larger facility just down the road near Charter Colony Parkway. PHOTOS BY ASH DANIEL Chesterfield fire officials are seeking approval for a new Midlothian station they say will close a longstanding coverage gap in the county’s most rapidly developing area.

The county already owns property on which it wants to build the new two-story station at the intersection of Midlothian Turnpike and Charter Colony Parkway, but Chesterfield Fire and EMS needs a conditional-use permit to locate the station there.

Its zoning case is scheduled to be heard by the Planning Commission on April 17. The Board of Supervisors is expected to consider it at its May meeting.

If all goes according to plan, construction will begin in July 2019 and the $12 million station will be operational in the fall of 2020.


Below: Midlothian Firefighters mill about Friday afternoon. Below: Midlothian Firefighters mill about Friday afternoon. “We want to have a fire station that’s functional and reduces response times, but also one that fits the character of Midlothian Village,” Fire Chief Loy Senter said during a public meeting last week. “We’ve been listening to community members about what they’re looking for in a fire station. We hope we’ve addressed any concerns.”

The existing station across from Midlothian Middle School, which was built by the now-defunct Midlothian Volunteer Fire Department in 1955, isn’t large enough to accommodate a modern ladder truck. It’s also land-locked, limiting the ability to expand the building and keep up with population growth.

That’s important because, in accordance with the county’s plan to encourage dense, pedestrian-friendly mixed-use developments in its suburban villages, Midlothian is now home to Chesterfield’s highest concentration of multifamily dwelling units.

According to Chesterfield Fire and EMS, the population served by the Midlothian fire station has increased by more than 5,000 residents, or 25 percent, since the 2010 census.

Thirty-eight percent of all residential buildings three stories or taller in Chesterfield are located in the Village of Midlothian – and there are more on the way.

Nearly 2,200 multifamily dwelling units and another 700-plus townhomes are in various stages of the county’s planning process. Since late 2017, the Board of Supervisors has approved zoning for about 1,000 apartment units around the Westchester Commons shopping center, hopeful that additional rooftops will provide a boost for its retail stores.

Deputy Chief Jim Fitch said ladder trucks, which can provide 2,000 gallons of water per minute from an elevated position, are essential to effectively fighting fires in multilevel residential buildings.

“Elevated water sources help prevent fire from spreading and allow ground-based crews to bring incidents under control more quickly,” he added.

The lack of a ladder truck at the Midlothian fire station has resulted in longer response times for structure fires in and around the village, as dispatchers have had to send one from a station elsewhere in the county. In heavily populated areas, Chesterfield Fire and EMS expects its first unit to be on scene within seven minutes of a 911 call.

For structure fires, the goal is to have an “effective response force” – three fire engines, a ladder truck, an ambulance and two battalion chiefs – on scene within 11 minutes.

Over the past three years, the department has failed to meet that goal 78 percent of the time in the area served by the Midlothian fire station. The average response time for effective response force is 14 minutes, 31 seconds.

“Oftentimes it’s because we’re waiting for the ladder truck to get there,” Fitch said.

The new site should also help improve coverage because its access road will create a four-way intersection at Charter Colony and Midlothian Turnpike, giving first responders the ability to travel east, west or south without having to cross a median.

As far back as 1989, the Midlothian special area plan noted the need to relocate the fire station due to the limited size of the existing site.

Twenty years later, the fire department completed a community risk and coverage analysis, which recommended moving the station further west on Midlothian Turnpike to address growth patterns in northwestern Chesterfield.

Because it’s such a prime location, the fire department has committed to building the new station to meet village architectural standards and limit its impact on adjacent property owners.

There is $800,000 for design work in the department’s fiscal year 2019 budget and another $11.2 million for construction that will be available in fiscal year 2020.

“We’re not seeing a significant [cost] difference between a fire station that is designed well versus one that’s not,” said Thomas Tingle, president of Guernsey Tingle, a Williamsburg-based architectural firm that has been hired to design the Midlothian fire station.

“You’re not paying a premium on what the building costs. Much of the cost of a fire station is what goes inside.” ¦

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