Commissioner: Substation would make park, city safer

Sheri Kotzum | 315-4353 | @DestinLogSheri |
In December 2018, the fire department submitted conceptual plans to the city of Destin for a new fire substation at Clement Taylor Park. [FILE PHOTO]

After announcing a possible new fire substation at Clement Taylor Park, the Destin Fire Control District Board of Commissioners has received a lot of negative feedback from citizens. But they want the public to know that they aren’t trying to take away their park.

In December 2018, the fire department submitted conceptual plans to the city of Destin for a new fire substation at Clement Taylor Park. The park is slated to be renovated within the next year using funds from the RESTORE Act, but the new station would be funded by the fire district’s impact fees.

“What we’re doing is carving out that section of the park,” said Rick Moore, the chairman of the DFCD board of commissioners. “No grant money is involved. It is strictly coming from our impact fees that we’ve already collected from our developers.”

By leasing a small section at the front southeastern corner of the park, where the bathrooms are currently located, district officials say it will help save the taxpayer’s money. If they aren’t able to lease the property, they will have to find a different waterfront location, which could cost up to $2 million or more.

“We have about $1.1 million in impact money and we’ve been saving that money for 10-12 years,” fire commissioner Bob Wager said. “It’s a one time opportunity to build a building and buy a fire truck at no cost to the taxpayers.”

Destin Fire Chief Kevin Sasser said a new station has been in the works for several years, and after noticing a substantial increase in water-based calls, Clement Taylor Park was identified as a perfect location.

“Over the last three years, calls for water-born emergencies have significantly increased, by about 60 percent,” Sasser said. “Having the ability to respond quickly to those emergencies is very important so we knew that we needed a station that was on the water so we would have immediate access to the boat.”

The fire district currently has a boat on a slip at the Destin Fishing Fleet Marina behind Brotula's Seafood House and Steamer, but Sassser said it takes between 15-20 minutes to get there and get the boat in the water on a good day. Once the boat is in the water, they still have to go through a “No Wake Zone” to get to emergencies in the Gulf, East Pass or on Crab Island.

“They’ll go as fast as they can but they’re responsible for the other boats too so they really can’t fly out of the harbor,” fire commissioner Jack Wilson said. “80 percent of the time spent to get to Crab Island is spent getting out of the harbor and under the bridge.”

It’s also difficult for fire trucks to get to emergencies in the west end of the city during peak season due to the increase in traffic, which also increases response time.

“We can’t get to the most problematic area of town in the response time that we’d like to have,” said fire commissioner Jack Wilson.

Sasser and the board of commissioners believe putting the station in the park will help make the park a safer place for both kids and residents. Three of Clement Taylor's descendants, who are still Destin residents, wrote a letter to Mayor Gary Jarvis and the City Council in support of the new station.

“It makes the park safer and I think it’ll help keep the homeless out of the park and keep it cleaner,” commissioner Mike Buckingham said. “To these kids, those (firemen) are heroes.”

“We’re gonna be a good steward of that property,” Moore added. “I think it’s gonna be a more secure park because we’re gonna be on the premises 24/7.”

The city's original application to renovate the park with RESTORE Act funds did not include plans for a new substation. The city is in the process of making sure the addition of a new substation on the park property will not disrupt their access to the RESTORE Act funds before making a decision on the fire district's request.

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