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Safety center opens next week

Suffolk Fire and Rescue administrators will be moving into their new offices on Kings Fork Road today, and firefighters will answer area calls from the building beginning next week.

Finishing touches to the King’s Fork Public Safety Center, which houses a fire station, emergency operations center and fire administration offices, will be applied in the coming days. A ribbon cutting is scheduled for Tuesday at 10 a.m.

“It’s significantly more than just a fire station,” said Gerry Jones, Suffolk’s director of buildings and capital programs. “It’s three buildings in one.”

The multi-use facility not only contains the new Fire Station No. 6, but also includes a permanent emergency operations center — for use during events such as hurricanes — and offices for all of the fire department’s administration, including the fire chief and deputy fire chiefs, battalion chiefs, emergency management, fire marshal and fire investigators, and more. The building’s construction cost rang in at $5.2 million, with furnishings, equipment, technology and other incidentals costing an additional $2.7 million.

The 25,500-square-foot building also will feature a large main lobby to showcase the department’s history — including an antique 1927 fire truck, one of the city’s first motorized trucks — and a helipad in the rear of the building to accommodate the Nightingale air ambulance.

Perhaps most important about the building, though, is that it will reduce response times along Routes 10 and 58.

“The response times are going to just drop dramatically,” Fire Chief Mark Outlaw said. “This is a very active area for fire calls.”

Currently, the area is served by the stations on Kings Highway, Pitchkettle Road and Market Street. However, even the closest stations are 10 to 15 minutes away from some locations in the area, Outlaw said. The new station initially will house an ambulance and fire engine, with an aerial ladder coming next year.

“It’s the right time to fill this big hole,” he said.

The location seems well-chosen for a number of other reasons, too, Outlaw said. The lot, next to King’s Fork Middle School, is on the same power grid as Sentara Obici Hospital, making it a priority for Dominion Virginia Power during outages. King’s Fork High School, just across the street, is the city’s main emergency shelter. And the lot was already heavily used for Nightingale landings, so the helipad will boost the efficiency and safety of those landings.

The emergency operations center will replace the one currently housed at White Marsh Road’s Station No. 3, although that one will remain as a backup.

Built with reinforced concrete and glass as well as primary and backup generators, to withstand a Category 2 hurricane, the new center boasts television screens in the main room, dedicated stations for each city department and smaller rooms for extra staff, media and more. The old emergency operations center at Station 3 was simply a small training room with tables.

“It’s the most state-of-the-art EOC in the area,” Outlaw said.

The space for the fire department’s administration replaces cramped offices, storage rooms and closets that currently serve as offices in Station No. 1 on Market Street. The room available for the fire department’s administration hasn’t changed since 1963, when the department covered two square miles.

“It was cramped trying to have a functioning fire station there,” Jones said.

The former administrative space in the Market Street station will be used for shift supervisors’ offices, as well as training rooms and storage.

In the fire station, a full-service kitchen, dining area, lounge, offices and living quarters offer privacy for the 21 firefighters — seven per shift — who initially will call it home while at work. Anticipating growth, there is enough room for 18 firefighters per shift to eventually work there, Outlaw said.