Fire department in flux after funding rejection
by Jennifer Cohron
Aug 27, 2013 | 2657 views | 0 0 comments | 46 46 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A member of the Cordova fire department keeps an eye on a controlled burn downtown on the second anniversary of the April 2011 tornadoes. Two years after the storm, the department is still without a permanent home. – Photo by: Jennifer Cohron.
A member of the Cordova fire department keeps an eye on a controlled burn downtown on the second anniversary of the April 2011 tornadoes. Two years after the storm, the department is still without a permanent home. – Photo by: Jennifer Cohron.
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Members of Cordova Fire and Rescue tried to keep their pride in check after last week’s announcement that the city had been denied funding to rebuild a fire station.

A new city hall, a library and the realignment of Main Street are the local disaster recovery projects set to benefit from the $3.7 million being handed down from the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.

The city’s requests for $2.8 million for a new fire station and $2.7 million for a police station were both overlooked.

Fire Chief Dean Harbison describes the morale around the department, which is in its fourth temporary location in two years, as “not the best but not the worst.”

“Most of the people who are here were here during the storm. We survived that second tornado coming right over our heads. We’ll survive this,” Harbison said.

However, it’s not only the volunteer firefighters who will suffer if they are literally left in the cold this winter for the second time since the April 2011 tornadoes.

The Insurance Services Office, which oversees the rating system that insurance companies use to establish fire insurance premiums, recommends that equipment be kept in an environment that maintains a temperature of at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Harbison.

Cordova Fire and Rescue’s four trucks, one of which is brand new and another that is only 5 years old, are currently parked outside at the old VFW. A hose on the department’s brush truck is already showing signs of oxidation.

Harbison has also warned the Cordova City Council several times about what will happen if appropriate shelter cannot be secured before the weather turns colder.

“One winter will kill all of it if we have a hard enough winter,” Harbison said.

Harbison estimates the cost to repair a truck that freezes to be between $75,000 and $150,000.

The trucks had to stay outside for much of the first winter that followed the tornadoes. Then, temperatures rarely dipped near freezing and Harbison eventually got permission from Walker County Schools Superintendent Jason Adkins to use the gym of the old high school.

That structure was torn down this summer, which led to the department’s relocation to the VFW.

Harbison said the former station on Stevens Street has been totaled by the city’s insurance company and returning to the site itself is out of the question.

“It wasn’t good for getting in and out. There was no parking. Our guys had to park in the street so they could get the trucks out to run a call. It never was a good facility. It just served its purpose for the time they had it,” Harbison said.

He added that Cordova Fire and Rescue had outgrown the 30-year-old Butler building years before it was damaged in the tornadoes.

When Harbison became fire chief in 1999, Cordova’s firefighters were still running two convertible fire engines that dated back to the 1950s.

Since then, the department has continued to improve in equipment and expertise. Those efforts were rewarded in 2009 when the city’s ISO rating dropped from a 7/9 to a 5/9 on a scale of 10.

There is a concern that the 5/9 rating would be in jeopardy if an ISO inspection were held today because of a lack of a station.

Harbison said now that federal funding is no longer an option, a new discussion must begin about how to address the needs of the fire department.

“Basically, this is day four after the disaster,” he said Friday afternoon, four days after the ADECA announcement.

The city received less than $100,000 in insurance proceeds for the damaged station, not enough to rebuild what Harbison believes is needed.

He had anticipated using the money as the city’s match for ADECA funding or any other grants that became available. However, most fire service grants are for equipment, not brick and mortar.

Even after the city honors the $372,000 match that is required for the $3.7 million ADECA funding, Cordova will still have some leftover insurance money that could be put toward the construction of a new fire station.

Where the station will go, what it will look like, how much it will cost and when it will be available are all issues that are undecided.

Still, Cordova Fire and Rescue remains in business.

“We’re here to serve the community the best way we can with what we can,” Harbison said.