The Future of Apex Station 1

This is a blog version of an earlier Facebook posting

In case you missed it, the Apex Town Council on September 3, 2019, held a work session to discuss “future plans for maintaining an operating fire station” at the Station 1 location, 210 N. Salem Street.

As noted in the work session agenda item, it consisted of “information related to the opportunities and challenges that are faced by maintaining an operating Fire Station 1 at 210 N. Salem Street. We will discuss the historic response performance from this station, discuss implications of moving this station, discuss the possibility of relocating Station 3 if Station 1 remains in its current location, and the predicted effects on our public protection classification rating should we relocate either Station 1 or Station 3. Ultimately, the eventual decision on whether to maintain Station 1 on N. Salem Street will allow the department to solidify plans for other facility needs.”

After that presentation and a discussion, the council members and the mayor expressed their preference that they (a.) continue operating a fire station at that location and (b.) replace the current building with a newer facility.

Included in the presentation was a history of Station 1, long-planned renovation goals, limitations of current facility, options for renovation or rebuild, and station locations, response data, and needs therein.

See the minutes and presentation slides at www.legeros.com/blog/docs/apex.

Note that this was only a discussion, and the final decision will rest with the new Town Council, of which elections were held last week. Once that happens, the town and particularly the fire department can proceed in definitive directions with future planning, and with regard to current and future locations for resources.

Historical Perspective

What’s the backstory on this decision, and the need for one? Here’s a historical take, with Legeros working from his notes and memories.

The town of Apex was long-served by a volunteer fire department. They were organized in 1927 and re-organized in 1939. The townsfolk provided the manpower, and the town supplied their equipment. In 1952, a private non-profit AFD corporation was created. They were the first “rural service” department in Wake County. Three years later, they started construction on the Salem Street station, a facility that was expanded over the years, with additional bays and a second story.

And for decades, it was the only fire station in Apex. And the only one needed in the small town that sits at the highest point in the county. But times changed and the town grew. During the 1990s, for example, the population quadrupled to over 20,000. By 2010, it was home to 37,476 residents. Today, it’s over 50,000. And as the town and its population grew, so did demands on fire protection. In 1993, the first paid Fire Chief was hired. In 1997, a second station was opened in the New Hill community. And by 2002, there were two entities operating in harmony, a town FD and a rural FD, though they shared resources, facilities, and equipment.[1]

That year, a consolidation of the two departments was completed. The town assumed all of the volunteer AFD assets, and assumed all debts. And the town agreed to keep the volunteer’s downtown station open for at least ten years. And, added to the mix, was a third fire station, completed in 2002 at 736 Hunter Street, about a mile from Station 1. Into that facility the full-time staff and administrative offices were moved.

Also in 2002, the first paid [part-time?] firefighters were hired, to work during weekdays.[2] This was needed because there were increasingly fewer volunteer members, who could leave their jobs during the work week, to answer calls. And that was a trend both locally and nationally. This “combination” of volunteer plus paid part-time evolved into today’s Apex FD, which is comprised predominately by full-time e.g. career members.

Fast-forward to 2019, and the still-growing town has five fire stations, and obvious need for future fire facilities. As well as *optimized* locations, of which Station 1 and Station 3—by virtue of their close proximity—don’t quite qualify. Plus Station 3 is a bit on the small (or very small) size, for the department’s needs. (Plus the needs at Station 1, as noted in the presentation. Such as… there’s no fast access from the upstairs living quarters to the downstairs apparatus bay. Crews have to use an exterior staircase, which impacts response times.)

Thus the importance of the discussion, which allows the town and fire department to consider other options than simply “keep things the same.” > Though, on a side note, “new” is also an applicable adjective for the Apex Fire Department, as they recently began operating as part of a unified Cary-Apex-Morrisville fire system. It’s one of the most exciting and innovation developments in the Wake County fire service in ages. See blog post: www.legeros.com/blog/cary-apex-morrisville/

Keeping Things the Same

For those in other areas of the county, these thoughts and considerations may sound all too familiar. That’s because our communities—be they rural or metropolitan—are now in transitional states, where populations have boomed, and traditional, beloved, built-with-by-sweat-of-their-brow fire stations are not necessarily located on the best sites, for the best results. And departments are facing choices, about preserving legacy locations and legacy facilities.

Because communities change, and so do their fire protection needs. Good to hear that Apex recognizes those needs and is moving in directions to better serve those they serve.

[1] Did the town own many assets at the time of the merger? Just one truck, a “town truck” that was recently purchased. They were also paying the salaries of a full-time Fire Chief, twelve firefighters, a fire marshal, and an admin assistant.

[2] Were the first paid members in the 1990s paid part-time, or full-time hired to work weekdays? TBD.

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