Chapel Hill Looks To Sell Fire Station Property

The Chapel Hill Town Council unanimously agreed to allow the town to sell the property that currently houses Fire Station 2 on South Hamilton Road.

East-West Partners has proposed to buy the property for $1.7 million and lease it back to the town.

That money would be used to build a new station on the property and East-West Partners would also build a two-story office building and a parking deck.

“The proposed agreement would allow the town to acquire a brand new fire station that would meet our needs into the future for $750,000,” town manager Roger Stancil said. “It’s a 500-year lease and the property would go on the tax books.”

The property is currently untaxed and Stancil estimated this would add $42,000 annually to the budget.

Without this deal, renovation of the new fire station is estimated to be nearly $3 million.

Interim Fire Chief Matthew Sullivan said the new station will be able to house two trucks and the EMS unit that Orange County EMS  has said it is interested in co-locating at the station.

“Given the condition of our Station 3 property and the crowding issues there, as well as the strategic location of Station 2, it’s our intention to move the ladder truck to the new fire station immediately when it opens,” he said.

The town will lease the property for the next 500 years and will pay $1 in rent per year.

“One of our citizens said ‘why are we not leasing the land, why are we selling the land,'” said councilwoman Donna Bell. “We’re getting a new station and that land underneath it, short of, you know, martians, is kind of ours.”

Mayor Pam Hemminger was also in favor of the sale.

“I’m very excited about this,” she said. “I’m not normally excited about selling town property or trading town property but we do get basically a $3 million station for $750,000.”

When renovation begins, UNC has agreed to house the crew currently at Station 2 at an old fraternity house near Finley Golf Course.

Stancil said the town also has two other fire stations that need renovation and already have proposals to buy those lots, but wanted to start with Station 2 before moving forward on to the others.

Sullivan To Lead CHFD Through Strategic Planning Process

Matt Sullivan will stay on as Chapel Hill’s interim fire chief for at least the next year and a half.

In a memo to council members, Town Manager Roger Stancil wrote that the fire department needs to take time to plan for the future before hiring a new leader.

Sullivan, who has served as interim chief since Dan Jones stepped down in May, will continue in his role for 18 to 24 months while revising the department’s strategic plan.

Stancil says the future of the department will likely involve greater collaboration with other municipalities and community partners.

Longtime Chapel Hill Fire Chief Dan Jones To Retire In May

After decades of public service, longtime Chapel Hill Fire Chief Dan Jones will be stepping down this spring.

“After 41 years in the fire service (and) 25 years in Chapel Hill, my wife and I decided that it’s time to end my career in the uniformed fire service,” he says. “I let the town manager know (Wednesday) that I intend to retire in May.”

He’s spent his entire life in public service, leading the Chapel Hill Fire Department through a long period of transition. When he took office in 1990, he says the CHFD didn’t provide much more than fire service – but now it also provides emergency medical service, rescue services, and more.

“We’ve come a long way,” he says. “The one thing that I have the most mixed emotions about is the people that I work here with – (they’re) really, really good folks, very dedicated and very committed to the fire service and the citizens they protect. I’ll miss the daily interaction with those folks.”

Along the way, Chief Jones and his team faced a number of serious challenges – perhaps most notably a tragic fire in 1996 at the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house, which killed five students but also led to significant policy changes for new developments that have made our community (and others) much safer.

“That was a horrible tragedy,” Jones says, “but a lot of good came out of it – sprinkler systems in student housing, not only here in Chapel Hill but (also) in other parts of the country – and I felt good about the fact that we were able to turn that tragedy into a lot of positive things.”

Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt says Chief Jones will leave a tremendous legacy – not just with the fire department, but with Chapel Hill town government in general.

“He’s the longest serving fire chief this city’s ever had, (and) he’s seen us through some really tough, challenging times,” Kleinschmidt says. “His fingerprints are over a lot of things – not just the fire department, but (also) the management style of the rest of our organization…

“He got us through a recession – when other cities were losing or laying off firefighters, he was able to manage one of our town’s largest departments through that difficult time, doing things that no other fire chief in this whole state has ever done. He’s going to be hard to replace.”

Kleinschmidt says Chief Jones will be missed – but he also says the chief’s influence will be felt for years to come.

“He really has trained up a generation of extraordinary servants that have come through our fire department…and who will owe their careers to him,” Kleinschmidt says. “And he’s taught me a lot as well.”

Chief Jones says he won’t be leaving town anytime soon: his family is all here and Chapel Hill is home. But he says there’s one local community staple that he will miss.

“You know, one of the things I’m going to miss the most when I retire is not (being able to) listen to Ron Stutts every morning driving in to work,” he says.

Chief Dan Jones is expected to step down on May 1.

CHFD Welcomes “TAC-52″

Did you come out to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Holiday Parade on Saturday? You might have caught a glimpse of “TAC-52,” the Chapel Hill Fire Department’s new blue truck.

The department recently acquired TAC-52 through the Firefighter Program (FFP), a program through the U.S. Forest Service that provides local fire departments with excess U.S. Government property.

TAC-52 Blue Chapel Hill Fire Truck 2

The fire department will use the vehicle for utility work, storm evacuations, brush fires, and other support functions.

Vehicle Fire Damages Chapel Hill Home

A vehicle fire on Saturday evening wound up doing $30,000 in damage to a home in Chapel Hill.

At 6:05 pm, Chapel Hill Fire crews were called to 110 Middlebrook Court, in a subdivision near the intersection of Erwin and Sage. When they arrived, they found a vehicle on fire inside the garage and the fire beginning to spread.

Officials quickly evacuated the home and put out the blaze, but not before the fire did $30,000 worth of damage to the garage and the vehicle. Parts of the home also suffered smoke damage – but fortunately there were no injuries.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but Chapel Hill Fire officials are reminding everyone to make sure you have working smoke alarms on every level of your home.

CH Fire Department Hopes to ‘Keep the Wreath Green’ for 2014

An illuminated wreath at Chapel Hill fire station on Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard is keeping score on residential fire safety this holiday season.

“What we do is, we hang a wreath on Fire Station 1 on MLK Boulevard,” said Chapel Hill Fire Marshal Todd Iager. “And we start the season off Dec. 1. It runs through New Year’s Day. We keep green lights in that wreath. And the goal is to keep it green.”

Iager further explained that for every residential fire in Chapel Hill during the holiday season, a green bulb is replaced with a red one.

“Keep the Wreath Green,” as it’s called, is an annual initiative of the Chapel Hill Fire Department.

And it seems to be working. The program had existed for a decade. During a few of those holiday seasons, Chapel Hill, did, indeed, “Keep the Wreath Green.”

“It is a fantastic public service announcement program,” said Iager, “and they followed that up with all the tree farms getting a tag for each tree.”

Iager was referring to locally farmed Christmas trees being tagged with safety tips for consumers.

The reasons for increased fire hazards during the holidays are obvious. Houses are full of decorations, candles, lights, trees, and there’s paper and plastic everywhere.

“Candles are a big ignition source for fires in the home around the holidays,” said Iager. “So we have to be really, really careful with candles. So when you leave the room, when you leave the house, blow the candles out.”

First and foremost, said Iager, people should make sure they have proper smoke detectors in every level of their home, inside and outside of bedrooms.

Residents need to work out a fire escape plan for themselves, Iager added.

“Most importantly, like game day in football or basketball, you play like you practice,” he said. “So make sure you’re practicing these plans, OK?”

Iager urged adults to keep kids at least three feet away from the stove while the holiday dinner is being cooked; and to never leave a hot stove unattended.

Here is a complete list of holiday fire safety tips from the Chapel Hill Fire Department.

Chapel Hill Firefighter Helps Deliver His Own Baby Downtown

Chapel Hill Fire Captain David Sasser has attended several unexpected births in his eighteen years as a firefighter, but he never thought one of those would be his own daughter.

“Right on South Columbia Street between Carolina Inn and Sitterson Hall, Kayleigh Ruth Sasser was born into the world,” says Sasser.

Sasser’s wife Vanessa went into labor Monday night, so the couple began the 45 minute drive from their home near Sanford to the Women’s Birth and Wellness Center in Chapel Hill. They almost made it.

“We were about five stoplights from the Birthing Center and labor had progressed to about a minute and a half [between] contractions and she just felt like she had to push.”

Although Vanessa gave birth in the truck, her water never broke, meaning the baby was still encased in the amniotic sac. Luckily, Sasser knew just what to do.

“I immediately pulled over and went from excitement and nervousness and fear into work mode,” say Sasser. “Somehow in one fell swoop I parked the truck on the side of the road on the sidewalk, broke the bag of waters, and called 911.”

Fire and medical personnel responded to the scene, including the fire truck Sasser usually rides on. Mother and baby were transported to UNC Women’s Hospital for observation, but Sasser says everyone is doing fine.

While he was there to help after the birth, Sasser says full credit goes to Vanessa, who delivered the baby herself while the pick-up truck was in motion.

“I always thought that childbirth is a natural thing and women have been doing it for thousands of years. My wife proudly showed me that.”

In Affordable Housing Push, Chapel Hill Sticks With DHIC

The Town of Chapel Hill is sticking with the Raleigh-based developer DHIC in its effort to get more affordable housing in the Ephesus-Fordham district.

That’s the word from Monday night’s meeting of the Chapel Hill Town Council.

Chapel Hill partnered with DHIC last year on a project to build 160 low-cost rental units on Legion Road. But in order for the project to be financially viable, DHIC needs to obtain a Low Income Housing Tax Credit from the state – and last month, their application was denied due to a paperwork error.

Town Council had the option to give DHIC more time to resubmit the application, or try to go in a new direction – but on Monday, Council members elected to stick with the company, extending the tax-credit deadline until August 31 of next year. (Assuming the tax credit goes through, the town will sell DHIC the Legion Road property at a low cost by the following April.)

Also at the meeting: Council members took the next step toward approving a proposal for the redevelopment of the fire station on Hamilton Road near East 54. The plan is to make it a mixed-use property: the town would transfer the land title to East West Partners, who would demolish the current fire station and build a new one for the town, along with a 45,000-square-foot office building.

Council members also took steps to help the 89 families in Orange County who face eviction and displacement because their landlords have stopped accepting Section 8 housing vouchers. Those steps included the creation of a $10,000 pilot program to provide rental and utility connection assistance.

Chapel Hill Fire Dept Completes Controlled Burns Training

The Chapel Hill Fire Department has finished their training with the controlled burns of the old houses along 15-501 South between Arlen Park Drive and Market Street, now making way for the new Southern Village hotel.

Public Information Officer of the Chapel Hill Fire Department, Lisa Edwards, says that the burns were a success, and that everyone involved most importantly, stayed safe.

“The burns went very, very well,” says Edwards. “First and foremost, they were safe. We didn’t have any injuries of firefighters or any personnel that were on-scene.”

Edwards says that it has been 10 years since the department has had an opportunity like this, and that being able to obtain the permits to practice it on houses, outside of their limited training areas, offered invaluable training for firefighters.

“The biggest thing was that it gave us that practical application of trying different fire fighting techniques based on what they were dealing with as they entered the scene, whether they could assess smoke patterns and flame patterns,” says Edwards. “Sometimes, we’d go in there and just knock [the flames] down just a little bit so it could come back up, so they have another opportunity to fight it before they put it out; that was just invaluable.”

In addition to thanking the citizens of Chapel Hill for being patient about the fires and the lane closures that occurred during the burns, Edwards also wanted to reach out and thank other local services that cooperated in conjunction with the live burn training.

“I want to thank Orange County Emergency Management and South Orange Rescue for having staff there each day to take our vital signs and make sure hydration was given, and to Bryan Properties, to give us the homes to burn.”

The Chapel Hill Fire Department has uploaded a point-of-view cam video of one of the controlled burns. You can watch it by clicking here.

Chapel Hill Fire Dept Plans Live Fire Training Near Southern Village

You might smell smoke or see flames near Southern Village next week, but fire officials say there’s no cause for alarm. The Chapel Hill Fire Department will conduct firefighting training exercises that will involve controlled burning of three homes.

Deputy Chief Matt Lawrence says that’s rare opportunity for the department.

“It’s really important that we’re able to do this type of training because it’s as real as we can possibly make it for our fire-responders,” say Lawrence.

The houses, located along 15-501 South between Arlen Park Drive and Market Street, are scheduled to be demolished to make way for the new Southern Village hotel. But first, firefighters will have a chance to hone their skills in a live fire.

“The majority of our training is conducted in our training center, which is a concrete and steel building that we can light fires in, but it is very difficult to recreate fire behavior and how fire moves through an actual wood frame structure, so this is a good opportunity,” says Lawrence.

The department will burn one house each day from Monday through Wednesday. All fire crews will have a chance to participate.

One southbound lane of 15-501 will be closed starting at 9 a.m. during the drills, but the lane should be reopened in time for the afternoon rush hour.

Here’s the full text of the department’s press release:

On August 4, 5, and 6, 2014, The Chapel Hill Fire Department will be conducting live burn fire training along US 15-501 South between Arlen Park Drive and Market Street.  The training will begin at 9:00 a.m. and conclude by 4:00 p.m. each day.

For the safety of emergency personnel involved in the training, the right lane of US 15-501 South will be closed between Arlen Park Drive and Market Street during these exercises.  Motorists are urged to use caution throughout these closures.

Those close to this area may experience the odor of smoke and see flames visible.  There will be an electronic signage board indicating the training area to clearly identify to citizens and residents where the training event is taking place.

While we expect to have smoke and visible flames at the training site, if you encounter a situation that causes you concern, do not hesitate to call 911 and make a report.