June 26, 2004 – North Side residents got news Saturday that they had been waiting impatiently for a long time to hear: The Dorothea Fire Station should be back in service come September.
At a meeting of the Northside Civic Organization, St. Thomas Fire Chief Glen Francis said a 10-week training program will begin on Monday for 18 St. Thomas-St. John firefighter recruits. With the additional personnel, he said, the Fire Service will be able staff the Dorothea station 24 hours a day. Some of the new firefighters as well as veterans will be assigned to the station.
The Dorothea facility, the only fire station on the North Side, reopened in June 2002 after having been closed for three and a half years and having undergone extensive renovations. Within a year, it closed again, with Fire Service officials saying the action was taken after several firefighters retired and five others in the V.I. National Guard were called to active duty in Iraq. (See "Fire Concerns Ignored, Group to Plan Strategy".)
Fire Service authorities have estimated it would take fire trucks 35 minutes to get from the nearest functioning fire station, in downtown Charlotte Amalie, to a North Side fire.
The Northside Civic Organization began demanding back in 2001 that the Dorothea station be put back into service. Ann Durante-Arnold, the group's president, and Jason Budsan, its issues chair, were ecstatic Saturday evening.
"It's been a long battle, and I'm pretty excited," Durante-Arnold said. "It looks like the new leaders coming into the Fire Service are taking this seriously and working with us. We have open communication. Chief Francis called us for the meeting. He is an excellent representative."
Budsan said: "It makes me feel so good that we have done something, that people listened. I'm just really excited."
Sen. Carlton Dowe, a onetime Fire Service official who has fought for funding for the station for years, shared the residents' enthusiasm at the meeting, Budsan said. Dowe in March sponsored an override of Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's December 2003 veto of $1.3 million for the Fire Service. The funding was earmarked for the reopening of the Dorothea station and the Bordeaux fire station on the West End, and the hiring of 24 more firefighters for the district.
After the override, James O'Bryan, Turnbull's spokesman as well as the St. Thomas-Water Island administrator, said the governor's financial team "had already planned to put the money for the Fire Service in the supplemental budget" that Turnbull at the time of his veto pledged to submit.
Ira Mills, Office of Management and Budget director, sent a letter to the Northside Civic Organization in April stating that the "financial team has identified sustainable funding sources to reopen the Dorthea fire station." Mills said funds were released on April 21 to proceed with the reopening.
According to Budsan, Mills also said the Fire Service is exploring the possibility of securing additional funding under the federal Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response, or SAFER, Act passed last year. The measure provide grants for local communities to hire additional firefighters.
Durante-Arnold also said her organization is working with the Fire Service on a plan to identify North Side homes. "Chief Francis said he would push to have his men drive by to see where the homes are," she said. "The North Side can be very confusing, with lots of winding roads and driveways."
She said the organization will be selling plaques with family names on them for about $25 or $30, the idea being for residents to attach them to Water and Power Authority poles, home exteriors or driveway structures. "The WAPA poles are all numbered, so that makes them easy to identify," she noted. An announcement will be made when the plaques are available, she said.
To track developments over the last four years in the saga of the North Side fire station, type "Dorothea fire station" into the search engine box at the bottom of this page.
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