A slow, steady expansion of services in its coverage area, while maintaining a reasonable tax rate for its residents, is a main goal at the Golder Ranch Fire District.
The district, which provides fire and emergency medical services to nearly all of Oro Valley as well as the southern portion of Pinal County, currently operates out of six fire stations, with two more on the design board, planned for construction late this year and into 2010.
Golder Ranch covers approximately 200 square miles and serves a population base of more than 60,000 people.
"Golder Ranch has enjoyed growth both in the town of Oro Valley and in our overall district, almost doubling in size during the last decade," said John Sullivan, community services division chief for the district. "We've added fire stations and personnel as the need arose so we could provide a higher level of service to the community, which is something that's a growing expectation across the nation."
Sullivan said he expects "to be moving dirt in September" on the next new fire station, to be located at West Linda Vista and North Oracle roads. The station will have three apparatus bays and occupy about 11,000 square feet of living and apparatus space.
"That's kind of a key site for us, because the Oracle corridor is where we have a lot of businesses and it's a high traffic area," Sullivan pointed out, "so we anticipate that it will be a busier station for us and we have to be prepared for that right out of the gate."
Sullivan said the district currently serves the Oracle Road corridor from its Woodburne station located off Rancho Vistoso Boulevard, near First Avenue and Tangerine Road. About a year ago, the district built and occupied a new station at West Lambert Lane and North La Cañada Drive to also serve the corridor.
"Our new station, which we'll call the Linda Vista Station, will augment the services we provide out of those two stations," Sullivan said.
The Woodburne station contains an engine, aerial ladder platform and ambulance, while the Lambert and La Cañada station houses an engine and an ambulance. Sullivan said he expects at least one engine and one ambulance will be based out of the new Linda Vista station.
Farther north, Golder Ranch will have a new mini station in the SaddleBrooke Ranch development.
"The station is being built by the developer to provide an enhanced medical presence within the community," Sullivan said. "We expect to be in that mini station with an ambulance during the first part of 2010."
Sullivan noted that while the mini station is being constructed as a medical response facility, as the community grows it could be replaced by a full-fledged fire station on property already provided by the developer.
As the Golder Ranch Fire District has grown in size, so have its personnel needs. Currently 140 people work for the district, which includes support staff. More than 110 of those individuals are firefighters, with at least a minimum qualification of emergency medical technician (EMT). Many are firefighter-paramedics.
"When we open the Linda Vista station, it will require that we hire an additional 14 firefighters to staff it," Sullivan noted. "With each station you open, there's a correlated number of employees who come on board, which allows us to keep up the level of service to the community."
The district currently runs seven engines (one at each station with one backup), a 105-foot aerial ladder platform and a 55-foot aerial ladder called a quint.
The primary method through which most of the fire districts in Arizona finance themselves is through secondary property taxes, legislated by state statute. The current tax cap to protect taxpayers from an undue burden is a maximum of $3.25 per $100 of assessed valuation.
Sullivan pointed out that Golder Ranch's tax rate is $1.59 per $100 of assessed valuation, a little under half of what the maximum allows.
"When you consider the level of service that's provided relative to our costs as a full service fire provider, we're among the lowest in the state," he said.
A full-service fire provider is a district that provides all emergency services, Sullivan noted — fire protection and suppression, ambulance and emergency medical services, hazardous materials response and full-time staff.
Scott Robb, a Golder Ranch engine captain, first started with the district as a reserve (part-time) firefighter 10 years ago and grew into the job along with the district's expansion. He's been a full-time firefighter for eight years, and captain for more than two.
"During the average day, our runs are pretty area specific," Robb said. "For example, in SaddleBrooke and Sun City we get a lot of medical calls — chest pain, difficulty breathing calls — because those are communities with more elderly populations. We also do a lot of assistance calls there, like removing snakes and changing smoke detector batteries."
In Catalina and Oro Valley, the calls are a little more diverse, Robb noted.
"That's were we get a lot more fire calls, although most of what we do is medical, no matter where we are in the district," he said. "Firefighters have adapted to the way their jobs have changed and serving the medical needs of the community is just one of those changes."
Sullivan said the district's current challenge is managing its growth and maintaining fiscal responsibility, while still providing the services demanded by its residents.
"Oro Valley adopted emergency services standards in 2005 that mirrored national standards," Sullivan said. "From the time someone dials 9-1-1 to the time you're at their doorstep or their emergency, they want us to be there in five minutes or less 90 percent of the time for fires, and in four minutes or less 90 percent of the time for medical emergencies."
Those standards are difficult for many fire districts to meet, he noted.
"That might not seem like an aggressive standard, but it definitely is," Sullivan said. "Most national fire agencies are hard pressed to meet those standards, even on an average basis, but these standards are something we aspire to meet and do it in the 90th percentile."