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New Fire Station #5 on the way to Harrisonburg

Published: Dec. 20, 2021 at 10:30 PM EST
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - After a decision by Harrisonburg City Council, a new addition is coming to the Friendly City: Fire station #5.

Every second matters in life and property threatening emergencies. This extra fire station aims to get first responders on the scene faster than they are now.

“We have an excellent fire department, but we can be better,” Fire Chief Matthew Tobia said. “Being better means investing in our future by putting firefighters closer to the scene of an emergency.”

The national standard, set by the National Fire Protection Association, and goal for fire departments around the country is to have its first fire engine arrive to an emergency within 4 minutes, or 240 seconds, 90% of the time.

For three of the city’s four fire stations, the response time is between 4 and 5 minutes.

“There is one section of the city, however, where our response times are significantly different from the rest of the city,” Tobia said. “That is in the Northwest quadrant of the city, what we commonly call the Park View section of the city.”

The Park View section of Harrisonburg is home to Eastern Mennonite University, Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community, several schools, and impacts over 11,000 people. The response time for this area is 6 minutes.

Tobia said previous leaders from the Harrisonburg Fire Department have expressed the need for Fire Station #5 and City of Harrisonburg leaders acknowledged that, but millions of federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) have now made it possible.

In total, nearly $24 million is going to the Friendly City because of ARPA. The purpose of this funding is to help localities impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The impact [of the pandemic] has been throughout the entire city and could really affect the department’s ability to provide services,” Tobia said. “This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity coupled with a longstanding, identified need resulted in the decision by City Council. It is an amazing opportunity.”

The official home of Fire Station #5 is still to be determined. Now that the City approved the project, Tobia said HFD will be partnering with the James Madison University mathematics department to research the best location.

“[We will] use data and A.I., artificial intelligence, to predict where call volume is going to occur now and in the future to try to identify the best site,” he said.

The last time a fire station was built in Harrisonburg was in the 1980s. Tobia said Fire Station #5 will be constructed to work more efficiently and safely for firefighters.

The department will also be recruiting and training 15 to 18 additional firefighters. Tobia said the goal is to have Fire Station #5 open in two years.

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