Maintenance Being Performed on Chapel Hill Fire Hydrants

You will very likely see fire hydrants spraying out water in Chapel Hill throughout the month of May. But don’t worry; it’s all normal maintenance.

A release from the fire department said all fire hydrants will be tested during this maintenance period to ensure they are operable and producing the required amount of what for when they are needed.

If you observe a hydrant that is out of service or experiencing problems, you are asked to contact Orange Water and Sewer Authority at (919) 537-4343.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding fire crews in your area, you can call the department at (919) 969-2010 to speak with the on-duty Battalion Chief.

Chapel Hill Receives Offer To Purchase Fire Station Property

The Town of Chapel Hill has received a 1.4 million dollar offer from the State Employee’s Credit Union to buy the property on Weaver Dairy Road that currently houses Fire Station No. 4.

Town manager Roger Stancil said the station is one of three the town needs to consider replacing.

“This is the opportunity to replace an aging facility,” he said. “It would require us to relocate Fire Staton No. 4.”

The council did not authorize Stancil to move forward with the sale, but did authorize him to come up with a recommendation about how to handle a possible sale and the options for relocating the station.

“If people haven’t been in the fire station, don’t understand the condition we ask our public safety people to live in and work in,” councilman George Cianciolo said. “I think it’ll be an eye-opener.”

But the $1.4 million, which is the town’s estimated value of the property, will not be nearly enough to cover the cost of a new fire facility.

According to Stancil, the cost to relocate the station would be around $2.9 million, excluding the cost of any land leased or purchased.

Fire Station No. 4 is also home to training facilities, which is estimated to cost $7 million to relocate.

“You could decide once we come back that you want to rebuild a fire station on that site,” Stancil said. “What motivates us is that we need to replace this fire station. Is there a way to do that and save the taxpayers money?”

The town will continue to listen to offers for the property, as well as evaluate potential new locations for the station.

Franklin St Lanes Reopened

Multiple lanes were closed on Franklin St and Church St.  The two east-bound lanes on W Franklin St were blocked.  East-bound motorists were able to get by the area in the center-turn lane.

Emergency crews were on the scene.  The Chapel Hill Fire Department had units dispatched and asked people to use caution in the area.

Earlier this week, fire crews contained a gas leak in the same area, which is near the Carolina Square construction site.

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.”