So far this year through the end of March, Fire Chief John Alvarez said Odessa Fire Rescue has made about 6,842 vehicle runs for emergencies — around 76 calls a day.
Mayor David Turner said that’s a significant increase for OFR, and they are struggling to meet the demands of the rise in calls due to a lack of fire stations, equipment and manpower.
“We had these eight stations five or six years ago before the first uptick in oil prices, and now we’re still here with the same number,” Turner said.
Alvarez said he has been working on developing a capital investment plan to be presented to the city council, which is currently being reviewed by OFR staff, detailing the needs of his department in order of immediacy. At the front of the list is the relocation of Station 6, 3414 Brentwood Drive, and the construction of two additional fire stations.
Station 6 is expected to move near Maple and Grandview avenues, Turner said, and Alvarez said the total project would cost around $11 million.
“It is worn out completely,” Alvarez said about the station. “It’s outlived its useful services.”
Turner said they are looking at building one of the new stations near the parks department, 1100 W. 42nd St., and another station somewhere in the Lawndale neighborhood to cover the growth in that area.
Alvarez said he would present the plan to the city sooner than later, and Turner said there was no timeframe for when any of the projects would begin until sometime after the city council saw the plans.
“One of my concerns is, if we pull the trigger, we’re still a year-and-a-half to two years to getting the firemen trained, and we’re running out of equipment at least once a week because our firefighters and paramedics cover about 900 square miles,” Turner said. “And it really gets difficult with the population growth and with the increase in traffic accidents just to keep up.”
The construction of the new stations would cost around $4 million, Turner said, but Alvarez said that wouldn’t include additional costs, such as utilities or staff. Alvarez said they would also need two more fire trucks and two more ambulances for each station, as well as the hiring of an additional 48 personnel, including six additional captains, three division captains, three battalion chiefs, and two additional command staff vehicles.
“We would have to work with our HR department and really do an aggressive marketing campaign for the department,” Alvarez said about getting additional staff for the new stations.
In addition, Alvarez said OFR is looking at expanding their central training program, including expanding the classroom at their central station. He said they also need back-up generators for the stations.
“Any time we have a power outage, we don’t have a back-up generator to keep these stations running,” Alvarez said.
Turner said the estimated population of West Odessa right now is about 60,000 people, not including the rest of the unincorporated communities around the county.
“Plus, they’re building houses as fast as they can,” Turner said.
Currently, Alvarez said OFR covers around 903 square miles. Despite help from various neighboring volunteer fire departments, OFR still responds to fires and emergencies in Goldsmith, Gardendale, West Odessa and other areas of the county.
“These fire stations should have been built several years ago,” Alvarez said. “We really need to get these built as soon as possible. That way, we can continue to provide the service that is needed from our citizens and required from our tax payers.”