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In fast-growing Utah, cities juggle fire response times against new station costs

American Fork Fire & Rescue's newest fire station is under construction at 960 East 1750 North in American Fork, Utah, March 21, 2023.
Curtis Booker
American Fork Fire & Rescue's newest fire station is under construction at 960 East 1750 North in American Fork, Utah, March 21, 2023.

Expanded populations, more businesses and land development are just some of the growing pains being felt in Utah County.

It also means an increase in demand for public safety. That's one of the reasons why American Fork is building a new fire station.

According to the city, American Fork Fire & Rescue responded to 3,182 calls for service back in 2018. That number jumped to more than 4,000 last year, making it the busiest fire station in Utah County.

American Fork voters approved an $8.5 million bond in 2019 to purchase land in the northeast part of the city for the new fire station. The money would also be used to purchase land for a third station at a later time.

"Finding available land was difficult,” said Assistant City Administrator Camden Bird. “So it took some time, but I think we found exactly what we were wanting. But really the process started a long time earlier when we were looking at our service levels, our response times, and realizing there was probably a need."

Over the last decade, census data shows a population growth of 27% in American Fork. And just to the north is Cedar Hills, where the city also provides fire and police service. But even if that wasn't the case, Bird said a new fire station in northeast American Fork was needed.

"The plan has always been to eventually build a fire station up there to get the coverage and response times we want in our area as well as the response times in the Cedar Hills."

The national standard for fire and emergency response is 4 to 5 minutes. American Fork Fire and Rescue meets the standard for 70% of the city.

"At the very furthest areas without [the new] Fire Station 52, we were probably closer to 10 minutes. With Fire Station 52, we’ll be back at the 4 to 5 minutes time," Bird said.

A city also has to consider things like traffic, infrastructure, and the general public which can all impact response time.

"In order to speed up those times, we have to build more stations,” said Utah Fire Marshal Ted Black. “They have to be in better locations. They have to be sometimes closer together, depending on the size of the city and so forth."

Black said many factors come into play when a city builds or upgrades a fire station, and it's not without careful consideration before millions of dollars are spent.

"You know the cost is weighed on the benefit of the citizens. And when a city chooses to build any new building with very, very rare exceptions, they are making a conscious decision to take action in the benefit of the citizens about it."

In November 2022, Layton City opened a new $4.2 million fire station to curb response times, with a focus on the eastern portion of the city. The addition made it Layton's fourth fire station.

Leaders in Sandy City are working to update one of their fire stations. Built in 1984, the station near the interstate on the city’s west side was damaged in the 2020 Magna earthquake. Fire Chief Jeff Bassett told KUTV that the building also has mold, a leaky roof and doesn't meet fire code in some areas of the building.

American Fork officials believe the $11.5 Million price tag is worth it for the overall safety of the community.

Part of the city’s reasoning is that the new station will reduce response times and also allow for the handling of multiple calls at once, which is about 30% of its call volume.

Slated to open in August, construction on the new 16,500-square-foot station is already underway. It will have three bays, house six firefighters, a fire engine, two ambulances and two brush trucks for wildland fires in nearby Cedar Hills and unincorporated parts of the county.

Curtis Booker is KUER’s growth, wealth and poverty reporter in Central Utah.
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