Plenty of loud cheers could be heard off Morse Boulevard south of State Road 44 on Tuesday morning as The Villages Public Safety Department’s newest fire station was officially dedicated.
Station #47, located at 4856 South Morse Boulevard, is the fire department’s ninth station and it will provide coverage for some of the newer neighborhoods in and around Fenney and Southern Oaks.
And it will help the fire department maintain its average response time of about 4:26 minutes – well below what most fire agencies consider acceptable.
“That is a fantastic response time,” said District Manager Richard Baier, who was celebrating his one year-anniversary as the head of the lead government entity in The Villages.
“When you look at other jurisdictions, you’ve got six, seven, eight minutes. Four minutes is that sort of public safety element that people have come to know and expect in The Villages, so we want to keep that up,” Baier added.
Station #47 is unique to Florida’s Friendliest Hometown in that it also offers a satellite District Government customer service center, where residents can do everything from get information about paying off their bonds to acquiring resident ID cards, guest IDs and gate access cards to paying executive trail fees, utility and amenity bills to signing up for Community Watch programs, to name a few.
“That’s great because from an efficiency and customer-service standpoint, it allows us to be able to go ahead and provide those functional elements right here where the people are in the south end of The Villages,” Baier said of the office, which is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. “So it’s really a fantastic way to provide better customer service.”
Before the official ribbon-cutting event and the age-old tradition of having firefighters push an engine into a new station, Fire Chief Edmund Cain shared a brief history of the fire department with the large crowd of area residents and dignitaries who attended the event.
He said it was formed in 1999 with one station and nine firefighters and ran a little less than a thousand calls that first year. Today, there are nine stations, approximately 120 firefighters and 13 administrative staff and the department ran somewhere in the neighborhood of 25,000 calls last year. So adding a new fire station requires a great deal of planning, especially when future growth is in the equation and the ability to access the firefighting equipment quickly is paramount, Cain said.
“They have approximately 60 seconds to get to the apparatus, daytime or nighttime, and get moving,” Cain said. “So we had to design that in there.”
Cain said it also was important to make the 11,000-square-foot facility functional for the crews who work 24-hour shifts.
“We had to design living quarters where they would be comfortable in-between calls,” he said. “They’re spending a quarter of their life here at the fire department.”
As for being chief of one of – if not the number one – fastest-growing fire department in the country, Cain said it’s an extremely satisfying job.
“It’s rewarding to see the public relations with the residents and how much they care about the fire department and the staff,” he said. “Our firefighters are fantastic, the way they interact with the public and the customer service that they provide. I would say our customer service is probably the best in the country.”