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County fire department offered free land

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By Calen McKinney

Though they have been offered the land for free, they say it's not the best place for a fire substation.

Last October, Taylor County Fire & Rescue officials told county officials that they don't have enough room and asked for help to solve the problem. Since then, magistrates have discussed the possible purchase of land for a fire station or substation.

On Tuesday, Taylor County Judge/Executive Eddie Rogers told magistrates that the county has been offered - for free - five acres of land in Heartland Commerce and Technology Park.

Currently, Campbellsville and Taylor County Fire & Rescue operations are housed at the Campbellsville Fire & Rescue building.

The county fire department owns and occupies four bays in the back of the building and parks two of its six trucks on the main floor. But, if ever asked to leave the main floor, the volunteers say they wouldn't have enough space to house their equipment.

Taylor County Fire & Rescue Chief George Wilson said the land has been donated to the county fire department, but he believes it's too far out.

To have a substation on that land, Wilson said, there must be 12 firefighters and a chief who can serve at the station. Those people just don't exist, he said.

Bob Buckner, a sergeant with the county fire department, said his department also doesn't have an extra truck to park at the substation. And, he said, the closest volunteer firefighter lives 2.7 miles from the park, which could significantly delay response time.

"So the bottom line is, there's no benefit for the citizens ... " he said.

While the volunteer firefighters are in favor of having a substation, Buckner said, setting one up in the park isn't ideal.

Magistrate John Gaines said he thought the idea of using the five acres of land, which the Campbellsville/Taylor County Economic Development Authority owns, was to move the county's entire fire operation to that land. The city and county pay the EDA's operating costs.

Buckner said about 85 to 90 percent of the county's fire runs are opposite the parkway, which could mean adding seven to 10 minutes onto the county's fire response time.

"That's not gonna sit well," he said.

He said another location was mentioned for a possible substation and is more suitable. That location was not specifically named.

Magistrate Matt Pendleton said having a substation at the park creates a problem for those who live on the southern side of the county. Buckner said that depends on where firefighters live and how accessible the station is to main roadways. He said the other property is more suitable in those respects.

Buckner said the park location is closer to some residents, but it isn't for some others. And volunteers don't man their station, he said, they must travel from their home to the station before responding to a fire.

"The whole county needs to benefit, not just one section," he said.

Magistrate Richard Phillips asked what magistrates need to do, since the proposed location seems not suitable for a county station or substation.

"I guess we go back to the drawing board," Rogers said.

But Buckner said if the park is the only option the county can offer, the county volunteers will live with it. He said the volunteers like their current location, they just don't have enough room.

"We're not trying to be hard to get along with," he said. "We don't want to take a step back for our community."

Pendleton asked how communities like Adair County can have a main station and several substations.

Buckner said there are two ways communities typically get substations, by creating a special taxing district devoted to raising money for that purchase or having a group of volunteers who live in a particular area who become certified and raise money for such a station.

"To be successful, you've got to have the interest," he said. "You've got to have the people."

County firefighters have said many times in the past that their volunteer roster, which stands at about 40 strong with 25 active members, is dwindling.

And since the county volunteer department became Taylor County Fire & Rescue after Campbellsville's fire and rescue departments were merged, county fire runs have doubled. Howard Dobson, a co-lieutenant at the county department, said he and his fellow volunteers went on 265 runs last year. But since Jan. 1, they have gone on about 100.

Buckner said he realizes the volunteers shouldn't turn away free land, but he doesn't believe this free land is the best for what the department needs.

Wilson said he would like to see the county keep the five acres in case it can be used in the future.

Rogers said he has applied for a grant that, if awarded, would give the county up to $500,000 toward the building of a county fire station or substation. But some, he said, require that land already be secured before the application is considered.

Rogers said legislators are still in the process of approving a state budget for the 2015-2016 year, which could include money for a Heartland Parkway. If that comes to fruition, Buckner said, the land in the park would be much more suitable for his department's needs.

"We'll keep our options open," he said.

Gaines asked if the county can wait as long as two years to have property in place for its fire station.

"We're not being forced out or anything," Buckner said.

But if the city did ask the county to leave its building, he said it would be wise to have a plan in place.

"We're trying to look down the road, too," he said. "We don't want to wait until we have a month to find a home."

Buckner said he believes the county can wait to see if the parkway will be built to make any concrete plans. In the meantime, Wilson said, he appreciates the county's support.

"We'll still be there if you need us," he said.