COPPERAS COVE — During the Copperas Cove City Council's annual retreat on Monday, Fire Chief Michael Neujahr gave a comprehensive presentation on the state of his department.
Neujahr framed his presentation in light of the increase in commercial and residential growth in Copperas Cove over the past few years. The substantial increase in calls for emergency services has caused the fire department difficulty in covering emergency services in the city effectively.
The fire department is presently staffed by 36 firefighters, six lieutenants, three fire captains, two deputy chiefs, the fire chief and an administrative assistant for a total of 49 employees.
Of key importance, according to Neujahr, was the situation at Fire Station No. 3, located at 1050 W. Business Highway 190. The station is staffed by two firefighters per shift, but has three units: fire engine, ambulance and brush truck.
When the ambulance from station No. 3 is on a call, the fire truck is out of service due to the staffing shortage, and vice versa. During 2017, that meant for over 1,000 calls, the fire engine was out of service while the ambulance was on a call. The ambulance was out of service for over 150 calls while the fire engine was on a call.
The staffing shortage at station No. 3 also required other districts to respond to over 400 calls in 2017, due to the staffing shortage, Neujahr said.
The fire chief proposed a $2.05 million renovation to Fire Station No. 3, which will enlarge the staff quarters, living area, apparatus bay, storage and driveway to adequately handle the current equipment and additional staff.
The construction would begin in 2019, but Neujahr asked that additional staff — three firefighters and three lieutenants — be added immediately. The cost of those additions would be over $450,000 per year.
Another addition to the Cove Fire Department would be construction of Fire Station No. 4 on Old Copperas Cove Road. This addition has been in the planning stages since 2011, Neujahr said. The cost of this new facility would be $7.7 million.
Station No. 4 would cover an area north and south of Robertson and east to Clark Road, Neujahr said in his report.
Based on 2017 call figures, Fire Station No. 4 would handle over 700 calls per year. It would be equipped with an aerial quint with platform — which offers pump, water tank, fire hose, aerial device and ground ladders — an ambulance, a brush truck and a command vehicle.
Staff for Fire Station No. 4 would be hired over a three-year period, for a total of 15 firefighters and three lieutenants. The yearly cost of salaries for these employees would be approximately $1.4 million.
"We want to hire new personnel for Fire Station 4 prior to the new building opening its doors, so they're ready to go," said deputy fire chief Gary Young.
With the staffing additions to both fire stations, that would raise the number of fire department employees to 70.
The Cove City Council has not voted on Neujahr's suggestions, but will consider the plan at a future council meeting.