It has been almost a decade since the Hewitt Fire Department added a new firefighter position.
The city’s fire call volume this year is almost triple what it was then, the emergency medical service call volume is almost double, and the already growing city is poised for a growth spurt in the coming years, officials said.
The Hewitt City Council approved the $841,000 purchase of a new fire engine last month, fulfilling the first step of a strategic plan put forward by Fire Chief Jonathan Christian that could bring new staffing, then a new fire station with a price tag of something like $4 million to the city by 2025.
The plan outlines a number of reasons Hewitt’s fire department is overdue for upgrades, and how it can achieve more efficient workflow and better response times.
Based on the amount of Hewitt’s land availability that remains, City Manager Bo Thomas said the population is projected to grow from 16,000 residents currently to 25,000. Thomas said the rate of growth depends on many factors including house construction and interest rates, but at the pace the city is going it could hit the 25,000 mark in the next five to 10 years.
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The city has grown throughout its history, but a jump to 25,000 in the next five to 10 years would represent an acceleration compared to recent decades. The population stood at 11,100 as of 2000, 13,500 as of 2010 and 14,300 as of 2015.
Along with increased population comes an increased call volume. Christian reported the department received 25 fire calls in 2013 — the last year the department staff grew, by one person — which has nearly tripled to 61 calls in 2022. The number of EMS calls has nearly doubled over the nine years as well, from 491 in 2013 to 921 calls in the last year.
The proposed plan is based on the best case scenario, but many of the elements are still in early planning, Thomas said.
“It’s a plan that’s dependent upon funding and it’s a plan that’s dependent on what the city community and city council feels is the right thing to do,” Thomas said.
As long as he can garner the support of the council and the community, Christian said it is possible for pieces to start taking shape quickly.
“We’ve got this next year to work on budget issues, going ahead and getting the design and plan for a station,” Christian said. “We’re on track but will have to have discussions to make the choice to move forward. … Once we make that final choice I think we’ll start moving pretty quickly.”
The first sequence of the plan was the council’s approval to purchase a brand new fire engine, which would be necessary regardless of personnel or a new station, Christian said.
“Right now the engine that we currently have is already needing to be replaced,” Christian said. “There is the possibility for it to run longer, but we need to cut down the call volume on that.”
City council approved the $841,000 purchase in November, estimating a 15-month delivery time. Waiting until the new year likely would have added some $60,000 to the cost and five months to the turnaround time, Christian said.
Staffing additions are the next priority outlined in the plan, which could improve the department’s ability to work onsite during emergencies and relieve some of the pressure on its limited personnel.
The department generally runs four firefighters on duty for each of three shifts — the minimum required by NFPA 1710, the National Fire Protection Association code that dictates fire department standards — with two people in a ladder truck and two in an engine when responding to fires.
“We actually have five per shift, but that only allows us to have one person off for training, vacation, holidays,” Christian said.
NFPA 1710 recommends 15 personnel responding at a time. The total of additional hiring has not been decided, but Christian said he prefers to hire in threes, which adds one person to each shift. He recommended getting to eight staff members on each shift, requiring nine hires.
“If you have a working house fire there’s a lot of positions to be filled,” Christian said. “It’s not like you can’t fight a fire with four people. … Firemen, we will work our tails off and do amazing things with very limited resources.”
Christian proposes hiring span the city’s next two fiscal years to prepare the new staff for a new station if one is built. He estimates adding two additional personnel to each shift would cost the city $450,000 each year. Christian said he and Thomas are looking into pursuing Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which could cover the costs for multiple years.
The final phase of Christian’s plan involves the construction of a station on property the city owns near Old Temple Road and Crestwood Drive. The estimated cost for the substation’s architectural planning is about $200,000. Thomas said he does not have an exact construction estimate, but it could be upward of $4 million.
The addition of a substation would split call response volume between the two stations and decrease the time it takes for the department to reach some places in Hewitt.
NFPA 1710 recommends the first unit responding to a fire should arrive in four minutes, but Christian presented a map showing some areas are five to six minutes from the current station. The new station also would be on the opposite side of railroad tracks that divide much of the city from the current station at 100 Patriot Court.
Thomas said the city has not gone through with any conceptual design at this point, but he said staffing would currently take precedence over a new substation. By hiring first, the additional staff will be ready to transfer to the new station by the time it is built.
Christian said architectural planning for a new station could happen as early as the spring, but nothing has been approved yet.