As construction of homes has expanded into southeast Mesa during the last decade, residents living near Elliot and Signal Butte roads have coped with waiting on fire and emergency crews sometimes nearly three times longer than the recommended national average.
But the city hopes to remedy that situation by constructing a new fire station in the southeast portion of Mesa months earlier than initially planned.
In November, voters passed two bond issues that will provide $170 million for public safety and street projects, including $58.3 million for 11 projects benefitting the police and fire departments.
Last month, the City Council approved construction to begin on Station No. 219 on the northeast corner of Elliot and Signal Butte in September, to be completed in November 2010. Construction had been scheduled to begin in 2010.
"It's been a long time coming," said Lorie Beuf, an eight-year resident of the Santa Rita Ranch neighborhood less than a mile from the planned station. "When we first moved here, Ellsworth Road was the only road into the neighborhood. I was happy when Crismon Road opened and then Signal Butte. Now, there's easier access to the neighborhood, too."
Matt Danley, who has lived in Santa Rita Ranch since July, said he was unaware that the area was without a nearby station.
"I can understand where it is a necessity because of all the houses being close together and the children playing in the neighborhood parks," Danley said. "The quicker someone can get here, the better. With all the parks around, there's a lot of opportunity for accidents."
The average emergency response time in the area surrounding Signal Butte and Elliot is six to eight minutes, longer than the national response time of four to six minutes 90 percent of the time recommended by the National Fire Protection Association, according to Mesa fire assistant chief Gary Bradbury.
Response times can be sometimes as long as 12 minutes when crews from stations a mile and a half away are on other calls, he said.
Within the first four minutes someone is not breathing, irreversible brain damage begins, and if a fire is responded to in its first four minutes chances are better for the blaze to be contained to one room before it spreads to or engulfs another, he said.
"We've fallen behind in our service levels out there, and we need to step it up," Bradbury said. "It is critical that a station is out there. There continues to be development east of the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, but no fire station. We've been trying to get a station in that area for three to four years, and the bond passed in the November election will make that possible."
The station is estimated to cost $5.2 million, and will cover the area south to Warner Road, north to Guadalupe Road, west to Loop 202 and east to the city limits. The station will include a four-member engine company consisting of a captain, an engineer and two firefighters in a group that will include two paramedics on each shift.
Across the street from the planned Signal Butte station is a Mormon church, and less than a mile away are large housing developments that include Santa Rita Ranch and Highland Ridge, as well as the Superstition Gateway shopping plaza. South of the Highland Village neighborhood, Pulte Homes has more than 1,000 homes planned for its Bella Via development.
Paul Kroff, director of acquisition and land for Woodside Homes in Highland Ridge, said about 30 percent of the homes are built for the 105-home community. He said he was aware of the longer-than-normal emergency response times in the area,
However, Kroff said he believes that the next two closest stations can accommodate the area until the new station is built.
"We felt comfortable building homes there," Kroff said. "We do recognize the emergency response times are longer than normal, but we believe we're still in the realm of security."
Mesa City Councilman and Phoenix firefighter Scott Somers, who represents the city's sixth district where the station will be built, acknowledges the lagging response times.
"There's no decent coverage out there," Somers said. "Having Station 219 constructed would do a lot to get response times down in that area."
Mesa also is part of a mutual-aid network among the Chandler, Tempe and Gilbert fire departments that will send the unit closest to the emergency, but Somers said there are no other agencies nearby who could assist in the southeast portion of the city in a timely manner.
"To be able to make a difference, you have to be able to arrive within that five-minute period," he said. "There's no mutual-aid partners who can help over there. Our direction is to accelerate construction on the station as soon as possible."
Another station in the northwest portion of the city, nearby the Mesa Riverview shopping center, also is planned to open ahead of schedule in 2010.