Remodeling work at two Pine Bluff fire stations has been completed and construction is ongoing on a new station, Fire and Emergency Services Chief Shauwn Howell said Tuesday.
Speaking to the Rotary Club of Pine Bluff, Howell said stations on Moreland Street in the Dollarway area and on West Pullen Street near University Drive received facelifts that included providing separate restroom and shower facilities for female firefighters.
Howell called the new Station 3, which will be located at West 32nd Avenue and Beech Street, the “crown jewel” and said the department anticipates it will be ready for occupancy in October or November.
At a cost of more than $2 million, the new station will replace the current Station 3 at West 30th Avenue and Ash Street, which is more than 50 years old.
“The role of the fire service is expanding and we have to house a lot more equipment now,” Howell said, mentioning for example trailers, equipment for water rescues, for hazardous materials calls and more.
Regarding the department’s other stations, Howell said the newest one, located on Ridgway Road, was built in 1986. Others, including the main station in the Joe Thomas Public Safety Building, opened in the 1960s, and the station on Commerce Road opened in the 1970’s.
As he has in the past, Howell also mentioned the Insurance Services Office decision to drop the city’s rating from a three to a two, effective Aug. 1, and explained that a number of factors are considered in rating the department.
Those factors include equipment, number of personnel and training, availability of water lines and access to hydrants, and communications.
“When the sales tax was approved it allowed us to make improvements in our equipment and staffing,” Howell said.
Asked by a member of the club if the fire and emergency services department faced the same problem of serving as a training ground for other departments that Interim Police Chief Jeff Hubanks talked about a few weeks earlier, Howell said “It’s getting that way, particularly with the entry-level positions.”
He said salaries for lower and entry-level personnel have “stayed flat” while other departments in the state are offering “built-in pay raises.”
According to the department’s monthly report, which was presented at the Public Safety Committee meeting of the Pine Bluff City Council earlier this month, the department responded to 380 incidents in May.
Sixty percent of those, 227, were emergency medical calls, and another 20, 5.2 percent, involved vehicle accidents with injuries.
The report, prepared by Capt. Harold Clark, indicated that there were 15 structure fires last month, four of those in Ward One, another three in Ward Two, six in Ward Three and two in Ward Four.
Through the first five months of this year, 15 structure fires have been reported in Ward One, 13 in Ward Two, 12 in Ward Three and 19 in Ward Four.
There were six vehicle fires, 11 brush/grass or rubbish fires and 60 calls that were classified as other.