HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Huntsville is gearing up for the impact from the incoming Mazda-Toyota plant when it comes to public safety.
Economic growth is fueling the demand for more city services like police and fire. Officials are looking to strategically place new stations and precincts.
The far western part of Huntsville continues to be a hub of industry and the new Mazda Toyota plant is bringing thousands of jobs. That means more people needing more services, including those that keep them safe. The police and fire chief reveal what's in the works.
"We've been servicing Limestone County for quite a while and as different industries have come in, we know the growth is coming with it and we're trying our best to stay in front of that growth," stated Huntsville Fire Chief Howard "Mac" McFarlen.
"The mayor and I have had many discussions about moving a west precinct out west. Of course, that's brick and mortar. Before we do that, we actually staff the areas. Last year, he added 10 additional police officers to the Huntsville Police Department and then six months, city council with him added 12 more. So that's 22 officers in one year," added Police Chief Mark McMurray.
Part of the reason for that is expansion and growth on that side of town.
"Our calls for service have gone up out there. The population is growing and we're annexing more land. A you see with Mazda Toyota, industry is popping up more out there, which is calls for service. They need police and fire services out there," Chief McMurray explained.
A lot goes into deciding where new police precincts and fire stations will be located. Maps and data are examined in order to get them as close as possible to homes and businesses. It all comes down to having the best response times.
"When we reduce our response time to calls, you're better served. When you call 911, you need emergency services right away so police and fire strategically place our officers and our fire stations in proximity of where these calls are coming from so we can get there quicker," Chief McMurray added.
It takes time, about a year, for new police officers and firefighters, to be fully trained and equipped to hit the ground running and with so much economic growth in the pipeline, public safety officials continue their efforts to be proactive.
"We're ahead of the curve by adding these officers now. We're ready for this expansion. We've been servicing Limestone County for 25 years in some shape, form or fashion. Now, as we watch the numbers of calls for service increase, we are increasing our officers out there on all three shifts," McMurray said.
Chief McFarlen says it's all about location when the city looks at where to build a new station.
"We look at all the data, from projected growth to where subdivisions are going in and where businesses are going to relocate," he stated.
Being evenly covered is what's most important to the Insurance Service Office, which assigns ratings to fire departments. Those ratings play a substantial role in what homeowners pay for insurance.
"In the budget, we have a new station. We haven't determined a location yet, but we have a station coming on board in the capital plan for 2020 and another one in 2022. Right now, one of our heaviest area we know we're looking at is somewhere along County Line Road and 72 West, that area in there," McFarlen said.
The fire station on Greenbrier Road has been very busy responding to medical calls and fires and working wrecks on I-565. It's manned with at least four firefighters at all times. In the future, there are plans to expand that location, adding more personnel and a ladder company.
"We're trying to stay in front of the growth and it's a challenge. We're thankful for the growth that we've got and it's a good challenge to have," McFarlen said.
"Both police and fire are rapidly expanding to meet our needs in every direction in Huntsville," McMurray added. "We expand out over 25 miles to the Decatur line. So we need to put a precinct presence out there somewhere close to the county line around the Madison County, Limestone County area is where we're looking at putting our next precinct."
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