Southside celebrates opening of new fire station

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By Kaitlin Hoskins,

News Editor

The occasion of unveiling the new fire station was extraordinary for the City of Southside, according to Southside Mayor Dana Snyder.

It was an event a long time coming, and one she is glad to see happen.

“This fire station is one of the most remarkable things I have been involved in,” Snyder said. “This is something the city has needed for a long time. It was a phenomenal grand opening. I even got emotional at some points. It is just so remarkable to see so many people come together. This is something the city can be proud of.”

The celebratory event took place on May 23 and included a welcome from several local officials, station tours and an official hose uncoupling.

Snyder said that she and Fire Chief Wade Buckner planned for enough food for 200 people, but about 250 showed up.

“I was blown away by the support and seeing all of those people,” Snyder said.

Located at 3170 Highway 77, the new fire station, was built with growth in mind. According to Buckner, the fire department currently has a call volume of 1,100 per day, and that number is on the rise as the population of Southside increases.

Buckner served for 20 years at Rainbow City Fire Department and later became a volunteer fire fighter for the City of Southside in 1994. Since 1994, he has witnessed the need for a stand-alone fire station in Southside.

“We simply outgrew what we had,” Buckner said. “Which is not bad a thing. The city is growing. We have just about 10,000 residents now. We are the fastest growing city in the county.”

The 2020 census showed Southside with a population of 9,426, a growth of over 1,000 citizens from the 2010 census.

“We are growing,” Snyder said. “We want to maintain that small town feel, but we also have to grow economically. We want to do it strategically. We don’t want to grow too fast. We want to do it right. We have to provide services to all our citizens and businesses.”

As part of the strategic economic growth, the new fire station is larger than what the city’s fire department currently needs, but it will serve the city well with plenty of room to grow. The facility has four drive-through bays for fire engines and rescue vehicles, overnight sleeping accommodations for up to six staff members, gender neutral bathrooms with single stall showers, a dayroom and kitchen, three administration offices, a radio room capable of routing dispatched calls in case of an emergency, a training classroom, laundry facilities, a large EMS supply room, shop room for mechanical equipment and a turn-out room for firefighters and medics on the clock.

Previously the fire department was housed in Southside City Hall.

“We outgrew that location a while ago,” Buckner said. “They added on to it once, but we just simply outgrew it.”

The department has three fire engines, two chiefs’ trucks, a rescue truck and now an ambulance.

The push for a separate and larger fire station started with then Fire Chief Billy Witcher who started advocating for the station to city council years ago, when Snyder was a city council member. Then the torch was passed to the next fire chief, Tim McKee, when Witcher retired. When McKee left the department, Buckner continued carrying the torch, and now the station is complete.

The property the station house sits on is just shy of four acres and was purchased from the Lawley family in 2020 for $86,000. The construction cost the city more than they had originally thought it would in 2020 when they purchased the Lawley land. The total loan amount the city took from USDA was $4.1 million. Originally, Snyder hoped it would cost about $1.5 million.

“That was the price before everything skyrocketed,” Snyder said. “This was during COVID, so, as you can imagine, those prices changed.”

The new station will be able to grow alongside Southside for many years to come, Snyder said.

Southside Fire Department is considered a combination fire department made up of a mixture of 29 full time, part time and volunteer firefighters. Among those staff members there are 12 paramedics, six EMTs and four advanced EMTs.

Starting June 1, the fire station will be staffed with at least two people 24/7. That change will significantly reduce response times, according to Buckner and Snyder.

“Our response time will go down,” Buckner said. “When it comes to structure fires, it only takes a few minutes before a room is at what is called flashpoint. It goes up quickly.”

The fire department responds to more than just structure fires though. According to Buckner they respond to car accidents, medical emergencies, fall accidents and more.

“We help people in their time of need,” Buckner said. “We do what we can. The fire station will help us with that. We will have a more constant presence and we will reduce our response time.”

Snyder is glad to see the fire department get what it needs to serve the community.

“Seeing this t

hrough to completion is exciting,” Snyder said. “I can’t stop talking about this. I’m just too excited. I hope the citizens see it and are proud of it.”

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