As Orange County’s population continues to stretch and reach into parts of the community, so does its need for emergency services.

On Sunday, the Orange Rural Fire Department and Orange County EMS hosted visitors to celebrate the opening of a new station that both agencies will share off of Interstates 40 and 85.

Instead of a ribbon-cutting ceremony, members of the fire department and EMS teams unscrewed two water hoses outside the Waterstone Station at 350 and 352 College Park Road. There was also an open house for people to see where the first responders will stay in between emergencies — each in their own half of the building. There was even a cake-cutting with the two departments’ logos.

Attendees cross College Park Drive and walk up to the Waterstone station for Sunday’s open house.

Orange Rural Fire Department Chief Jeff Cabe addresses a crowd gathered for the open house and dedication of the new Waterstone Fire & EMS Station on Sunday, June 4.

The Waterstone Fire & EMS Station was approved in December 2020 and broke ground in late 2021, but was envisioned many years before then.

The Orange Rural Fire Department covers Hillsborough and much of the central part of Orange County. Chief Jeff Cabe said fire response was initially effective with just Station 1 in downtown Hillsborough, having moved there during the late 1970s. Station 2 was constructed a few years later north of town.

But in recent years, as more homes began to be constructed outside of town and near the interstates, Cabe said it became increasingly harder for firefighters to quickly respond to emergencies.

“We built Station 3, which is kind of the northeast corner of the district, around 2012, and [so] this is the fourth one,” the fire chief said of the Waterstone facility. “This gives us enough station coverage that everybody in our district is within five miles of a fire station that’s got equipment and people to responds to calls.”

Director of Orange County Emergency Services Kirby Saunders said he learned about the project for a new station south of Hillsborough shortly after he joined the county in 2014. He said he remembers looking at the land before the Waterstone community was built and seeing nothing but woods.

“We knew then and we know now that the interstate corridor is going to grow and expand,” said Saunders. “It’s going to go from Mebane to Chapel Hill – we’re seeing it before our eyes. From an emergency services and public safety standpoint, it’s imperative that we’re there first… when and where we can be. We’re able to foresee that growth, we’re able to foresee and project that need, and [we’re able to] be present when the community needs us.”

Members of the Orange Rural Fire Department, Orange County EMS, the Orange County Board of Commissioners, and the Hillsborough Board of Commissioners break ground on the Waterstone Fire & EMS Station in November 2021. The project in total cost $7.4 million. (Photo via the Orange Rural Fire Department.)

The Waterstone station will become the home for Orange County EMS Medic 1 – one of the primary teams in the county that answers roughly 2,500 calls each year. Likewise, the Orange Rural Fire Department responds to more than 2,000 incidents each year. Both Cabe and Saunders said proximity to growing communities and major roads will help their teams improve response times, which helps save lives and limit damage.

Saunders added that first responders are needed in non-emergency situations too. As construction and work is done to build new neighborhoods or spaces for community members, emergency services are often on hand as a precaution. With the Waterstone station, he said now they won’t have to go far from a base.

“We’re here to serve not only the residents when that growth happens, but as that growth occurs,” said Saunders. “There will be contractors and construction and projects that will need our services – and we’ll be here.”

The county emergency services director added that the station’s presence may help more residents feel connected to the emergency responders. He said the door to the new facility’s lobby will be open 24/7 to the public for anyone’s needs or interests.

Cabe touted the new facility’s features that make it more energy efficient and limit its environmental impact. He said the alert systems in the building are also designed to cause less stress to the first responders on call.

He added he believes the variety of training features built into the station will also be a great benefit to his firefighters. Their inclusion is, in part, dedicated in the memory of the department’s late Training Chief and Safety Officer Jeff Holden. Holden died during a trench rescue in 2018, but spent many of his 17 years with the department helping lead and practice special operations.

Cabe said Holden is memorialized as part of a ‘Thin Red Line’ wall in the new station. But the training components – like a model sprinkler system, a confined spaces training area, an embankment feature, and fixtures for rappel practice – are also a way to honor Holden’s vision for his colleagues.

Cabe described how those in-house amenities are rare for his department.

“If you don’t have a building that’s designed to be rappelled off of,” Cabe said as an example, “most businesses won’t let you do it [for practice]. Either their insurance [will not allow it], or you’ll tear up their building or it’s just not designed for it.”

When asked what he believed Holden’s response to the new building would be, Cabe shook his head and let out a laugh.

“I don’t know that he would say a lot, but he’d be smiling,” the fire chief chuckled. “[With] a lot of teeth.”

The Waterstone facility represented the first opportunity for Orange County EMS to help design a station they would be co-located within. The department’s second such station, which is the new Station 4 in Efland, is continuing construction after breaking ground in July 2022. Saunders said the building will feature many of the same efficiencies as the Waterstone station and is aiming for a completion date in late 2023.

For those who missed Sunday’s open house, the Orange Rural Fire Department is doing its birthday celebration open house at Station 1 on Saturday. More information can be found on the Orange Rural Fire Department’s website.

See more photos from Sunday’s open house at the Waterstone Fire & EMS Station by clicking through the gallery below. does not charge subscription fees, and you can directly support our efforts in local journalism here. Want more of what you see on Chapelboro? Let us bring free local news and community information to you by signing up for our biweekly newsletter.