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Pulaski County group pushes for fire station

Homeowners seek lower insurance by Emily Walkenhorst | August 25, 2013 at 4:53 a.m.

Pulaski County residents who live just outside the western Little Rock city limits are hoping a move to build a volunteer fire station will bring down their insurance rates and leave them better protected.

Many of the residents in the River Valley Property Owners Association area pay steep fire-insurance rates for living more than 5 miles away from the nearest fire station. Some have been told that their rates would double when they bought homes in the area or have been denied insurance entirely because of their home’s distance from the closest fire station, association president Louis Bianco said Thursday.

The area, which includes Pinnacle Valley and River Estates near the Arkansas River, is served by the four-station West Pulaski Volunteer Fire Department. However, the nearest fire station to the River Valley area is at the corner of Ferndale Cutoff and Arkansas 10, and increased traffic on Arkansas 10 has slowed that station’s response time.

West Pulaski Fire Chief Ronnie Wheeler said response time for the River Valley area is about 15 to 20 minutes versus about 10 minutes for other areas in the district.

Without the fire station, the area’s Insurance Services Office rating won’t improve. The ratings are determined by the national, private company based on how quickly a fire department can respond to fires and how long it takes to put them out.

The ratings range from one to 10, with Level 1 being the best rating.

The River Valley area has a Level 10 rating, while the rest of the West Pulaski district has mostly Level 5 or Level 6 ratings. By comparison, Little Rock has a Level 2 rating overall and is working toward a Level 1 rating with the planned addition of a southwest Little Rock fire station and talks of two other stations in the future.

After residents began receiving letters from their insurance companies about their fire protection, Bianco and Wheeler knew it was time for a new station.

“We’ve been a 10 out here for years,” Bianco said.

Bianco and Wheeler said they hoped that the new station would reduce the rating to Level 5 or Level 6 for those still living more than 1,000 feet from the nearest fire hydrant. Wheeler said insurance rates could drop as much as 60 percent, so the owner of a home valued at $100,000 would pay $1,000 for insurance instead of $2,500.

Bianco said he’d like residents not only to have cheaper fire insurance but to be able to shop around for insurance as well.

“When you’re a 10, you can’t,” he said.

The Little Rock Planning Commission approved a rezoning request Thursday from the West Pulaski Volunteer Fire Department for property about a block north of the intersection of Pinnacle Valley and Beck roads, less than half a mile outside city limits. The approval was just one step in a process that will include raising $100,000 to build the two-bay, three truck fire station.

The commission gave a conditional-use permit to the Fire Department, allowing the fire station to be built on land previously zoned for single-family residences. Even though the land is outside city limits, Little Rock still has to sign off because of the proximity to city property and the potential for future city growth.

The Pulaski County Planning Commission also asked the Fire Department to obtain approval for a septic system from the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department and obtain permits from the Pulaski CountyPublic Works Department for driveway construction and for floodway development.

There’s still the hurdle of funding, but officials said they aren’t worried and are on their way thanks to the donation of property for the station.

Area resident Greg Hatcher, owner of The Hatcher Agency health-insurance organization, donated nearly an acre of land for the station.

Hatcher said Bianco had mentioned to him that he was having trouble getting any donated land.

“I just did it to help the Valley,” he said.

The rest of the project would be funded by resident donations, Wheeler said, adding that “everybody’s pretty excited.”

Wheeler estimated the building could cost $100,000 and that ideally more money could be donated for some new firetrucks and other equipment, which would bring the total price tag to about $230,000. Right now, the station uses equipment Wheeler described as “old,” including a fire engine, a brush truck and a water tanker. Wheeler also wants to update protective gear.

Bianco said he thought residents would be able to cover the cost of the building and maybe more than that, something he estimated to be about $80,000. Neither the Fire Department nor the property owners’ association has obtained official estimates.

The Fire Department will meet with the property owners’ association at a pre-planning meeting in September to address what the department needs from the property owners and possibly begin gathering donations.

“Everybody I’ve talked to is more than happy to do that,” Bianco said.

Wheeler said he’d like to break ground on the station in two months, but he wouldn’t be surprised if it took longer. Building the 3,600-square foot station, a metal building with a brick facade, would take only about a month, he said.

The Fire Department isn’t seeking funds from county or city governments because of how quickly it would like the station built.

The area’s 160 or so property owners already pay $50 per year in fire dues to be serviced by the volunteer Fire Department. Bianco said raising fire dues was not the first course of action that would be considered.

Information for this article was contributed by Claudia Lauer of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Arkansas, Pages 13 on 08/25/2013

Print Headline: Pulaski County group pushes for fire station

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