A new fire station is coming to western Shawnee. The question now is, where exactly will it land?
Residents met May 17 during an open house to air their questions about the long-awaited station, which is proposed for vacant land near 53rd Street and Woodsonia Drive.
The site is favored by the fire department because the location would improve response times to the most homes and businesses, said Fire Chief John Mattox. Most of the area in the city’s northwestern corner is now served by Fire Station 73 at 6805 Hedge Lane Terrace. But response times in some parts can range from five to eight minutes.
The proposed location farther north would decrease that time to the three-to-five-minute range, which is closer to the department goal of a four-minute response time, Mattox said.
Some residents had concerns, though, particularly the ones who live close to the proposed station. Department officials answered numerous questions about sirens and how the fire trucks will navigate nearby roundabouts to get onto Kansas Highway 7.
“I would not have voted for the safety funds if I’d known this was the plan,” one anonymous person wrote on a comment card.
Capt. Albert Hoelting of the fire department said the department has taken steps to make a lower impact on neighborhoods. For instance, fire trucks don’t immediately put on lights and sirens for automatic fire alarms because they often turn out to be false. The sirens do go on if a second call corroborates, though.
“I think there’s room for us to be good neighbors, too,” he said.
Planning for the station is still in the preliminary stages. The department looked at other locations at Garrett Park and near 55th and Belmont streets, but decided Woodsonia provided the best coverage.
Western Shawnee was a much sparser place when Fire Station 73 opened in 1988, Mattox said. At that time, there were only about 900 rooftops in the area. But by this year, the number of rooftops had grown to about 8,000, with another 800 residences on the drawing board.
The next station is projected to cost about $3.5 million, Mattox said. That includes the land and a new fire truck. Other equipment and fire department staff would be moved around to cover the station. The department will also eventually hire 12 new employees for the entire city.
The city council put the new fire station in the budget for this year, at the same time raising property taxes. But no land has yet been purchased, nor is a specific timeline set on when it would be built. Mattox hopes to have groundbreaking before winter and an open station by next fall.
Although there were questions by some, other neighbors at the open house were all for the new station at the Woodsonia location.
“I’d rather have this than a fast food place. It’s safer,” said Cathy Sprimont, who lives in the neighborhood. Putting a fire department presence nearby also might discourage youths from climbing the fence to the neighborhood pool, she added.
Rhonda Sutliffe agreed, saying she is excited to have emergency medical care closer to her husband, who has multiple sclerosis.
Tom and Sheri Dyche, members of the neighborhood homeowners association board said they also welcome the new station.
“I firmly believe it’s a win-win situation,” Tom Dyche said..