City buys land on Mount Clinton Pike for 5th fire station

Image from the Harrisonburg Fire Department website.

By Calvin Pynn, contributor

Harrisonburg’s planned fifth fire station reached another milestone Tuesday as the city approved the purchase of land along Mount Clinton Pike so the fire department can respond quicker to calls in the northwest neighborhoods. 

The city council on Tuesday unanimously approved the purchase of more than 15 acres at 450 Mount Clinton Pike. The plot of land, which is currently undeveloped, was owned by Elevance Health (formerly known as Anthem, Inc.), which sold it to the city for $1.3 million. 

The sale, which occurred earlier this month, will allow the city to use the land for several projects — one of which is intended to be Harrisonburg’s long-anticipated fifth fire station. 

“This is one of the major projects we’ve been waiting for,” Mayor Deanna Reed said during the meeting. 

Harrisonburg Fire Chief Matthew Tobia praised the council members for their decision to use funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to start working towards the new station during the COVID-19 Pandemic. 

“We were asked as members of the executive leadership team if you could envision doing one thing to impact this city for the next 50 years, what would that one thing be?” Tobia recalled. “In this case, it is the addition of capacity to ensure our community’s safety.”

A fifth fire station in Harrisonburg had been discussed for about 40 years. Tobia said the city’s former fire chief, Larry Shifflett, identified the need for a new station following the annexation of land in the city. 

The fire department partnered with James Madison University’s Applied Mathematics and AI departments to map out the best spot for the new station using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Social Vulnerability Index. That data includes factors such as economic status and proximity to emergency services to determine the vulnerability of U.S. census tracts vulnerability in the wake of a catastrophic event. 

Tobia told the council that the study found Harrisonburg’s Park View neighborhood at the highest risk. 

“Our goal is always to have a fire engine on the scene of any emergency within four minutes, because that is when lives have the very greatest chance of being saved, and fires have the very greatest chance of being limited in the amount of damage they can cause,” Tobia said. 

City Council members returned praise to Harrisonburg’s Fire Department. Council member Monica Robinson recalled a fire at her neighbor’s house two weeks ago and said she was impressed with the professionalism and compassion the firefighters showed when they responded to the scene.

“We know that we have a good team, but what I think is important is how that team treats people when you’re not looking, so to see that kindness just as a part of the way that they are was just overwhelming. I became very emotional,” Robinson said. 

Planning for the new station is still in the early stages, which Tobia referred to as the “due diligence” period. That includes conducting geotechnical studies to determine the property’s feasibility and seeking community input on the future station.  

“We have every confidence that this will be an ideal location, not only for the Parkview Community but also for the rest of the city because it will bolster our capacity to handle emergencies, and it will improve the quality of life for all of the members of our community,” Tobia said. 

Also at Tuesday’s meeting:

  • The council voted to redesignate the future site of Bluestone Town Center as a revitalization area, in order for the project to access pre-development grant funds awarded by Virginia Housing. This was continued from City Council’s meeting earlier this month as Council members Chris Jones and Monica Robinson attended the National League of Cities Conference in Atlanta, and were not present to vote on the matter. 
  • The council voted to allocate $3.4 million to Harrisonburg City Public Schools from increased education funds the General Assembly approved in the final version of the state budget. That money will cover additional pay for support staff and teacher pay raises in Virginia public schools. 
  • Council members also considered a motion to accept an Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance grant, which would award $16,964 to outfit city police vehicles Automatic External Defibrillators (AEDs) for medical emergencies involving cardiac arrest. The council will vote on the matter at a later meeting, following a 30-day public comment period. Stan Holland, a retired respiratory therapist who served as the director of the Heart and Vascular Center at Sentara RMH, spoke up in support of the grant during the meeting’s public comment period. “For every one minute that someone is in atrial fibrillation, the chances of living drops by 10%,” Holland said. “With policemen having this too, the chances of saving a life are dramatic.”

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