Weddington finalizes fire protection agreement

WEDDINGTON – The Weddington Town Council has approved a long-term lease agreement with the Providence Volunteer Fire Department to keep firefighters in the building they have occupied since 1985. 

The agreement brings closure to a long-negotiated ordeal in which the fire department property underwent renovations paid for by the town and then came under the town’s ownership. 

Two agreements in September 2013 set the stage for Monday night’s lease agreement; one in which the PVFD received a 10-year contract for fire services in Weddington and another in which the town agreed to pay for renovations to the department in the understanding that the town would later own the building and property. 

Just under a year and $915,000 later, fire personnel are set to service Weddington and surrounding areas for at least another decade from the comfort of a newly renovated department. The fire department will pay the town a total of $1 a year during the 10-year contract to continue to use the building and property. 

“For the last three to four years the town has worked tirelessly with the fire company to provide stability and consistency regarding fire suppression and medical first response,” councilmember Pam Hadley said. “Approving the lease agreement allows us to create a long-term partnership that can now concentrate on adapting to the future residential development of Weddington.”   

The discussions have been challenging, but the town and fire department have taken steps to better protect the lives and property of Weddington citizens, said PVFD President Jack Parks. The department did so by working with the town and other surrounding departments to redraw and implement new fire district lines. A major part of the department’s new plan was to house 24/7 staffing at the station. The station was not previously up to code to do so, and lots of work needed to be done to get it there. 

The plan will finally come to fruition Monday, Aug. 18, when the sale of the building from the fire department to the town is closed. The town paid for $715,000 in renovations to the main building on Hemby Road and an additional $200,000 to renovate the smaller storage building behind the main building. 

This work was all done with the understanding that the town would take over ownership of both buildings and the property they sit on when the renovations were finished. The fire department agreed to this arrangement in return for a long-term commitment from the town, which now guarantees the fire department will be using the newly refurnished buildings for at least the next 10 years. 

While the change of ownership won’t affect day-to-day operations at the department, the money pumped into the buildings has helped firefighters work more effectively and live more comfortably. 

“The changes have been well-received and there are a lot of positive aspects for the firefighters,” said Kenny Schott, newly elected chief at PVFD. “It’s a lot more livable for us.” 

The renovations included upgrades to the training room, which was transformed from a place where firefighters’ cots once stretched across the floor to a conference room with technological advancements where departments from around town can come together and discuss routes and other strategy. 

Other additions include an upstairs bedroom that accommodates six, updates to the chief’s office, watch room, kitchen and more. While the storage shed behind the main building once held a 1953 ladder truck, that relic has since been sold to a museum in New York and room was made for a weight room for firefighters. 

Improvements like these not only make the current firefighters’ lives easier, but also draw talent from surrounding towns, making the department more appealing to new recruits, Hadley said. 

The new renovations finished in March, and made firefighters more effective at their jobs. A new radio system includes alerts within the buildings that can be heard throughout the entire station. Firefighters no longer need to run to the chief’s office to hear the details of an emergency call. 

“There are some people who may not understand what is actually needed to protect the public and only look at the cost allocated to public safety,” Parks said. “The 10-year Fire Suppression Agreement with a lease tied to it is a guarantee to the citizens of Weddington that the appropriate response will be dispatched when they call 911.”

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Ryan Pitkin

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