KNOWLES — This rural community just north of Hobbs is about to get a new fire station.
Construction began recently on Knowles No. 2 Fire Station with foundation work on the Lea County’s two-acre property at 5510 W. Alabama St.
“We already have the pad built and they’re starting to trench in all the utilities this week,” said Lea County Assistant Manager Corey Needham on Thursday.
The county contracted Albuquerque-based Anissa Construction Inc. to complete the fire station at a cost of $2,299,900, including taxes. The funds were already budgeted for the current fiscal year.
Intended to supplement the current Knowles Volunteer Fire Department’s station near the intersection of Pinson and Highway 132, the new 5,729-square-foot facility is designed to comply with state fire marshal requirements for a main fire station.
The new fire station resulted from concerns that the Knowles Fire District is outgrowing the current station.
Charlie Pruitt, public safety administrator in the county fire marshal’s office, said, “Right now, we have a storage capacity issue. We have more firetrucks than we have bays to put them in. This will be housing those units.”
County officials considered two choices, either add onto the old station or build a new station. After meeting with the state fire marshal, they chose the latter.
“We looked at it and visited with the state fire marshal and came up with this location that would work on Alabama,” Needham told the News-Sun. “It did several things for us. It got us better coverage. That area is starting to develop more with housing so it get us closer to the homes. It also gets us funding from the state fire marshal’s office.”
Some of the operating expenses of volunteer fire departments come from state coffers.
“Depending on the ISO rating, they’ll fund a certain amount per year for additional fire stations, whereas if we just add bays (to the old station) that funding might not be available,” Needham said. The ISO rating is a nationally recognized score provided to fire departments and insurance companies to reflect how prepared a community or fire district is to respond to fires.
Pruitt noted an improved ISO rating should reduce insurance premiums for homeowners in the Knowles fire district, which is an area of about 250 square miles.
Annual funding from the state comes with some requirements.
“In order to get that additional funding from the state fire marshal’s office, we have to do a few things,” Needham explained. “We have to have an engine and another apparatus. We have two engines, so one will be at the new station. We have to train a certain number of people, so we have a training room in there. And then, we have to have a fire chief’s office. With those three things, Knowles will technically have two mains in that district.”
County officials viewed all of those requirements as good news for Knowles residents.
“We’ll bring an engine, a water tender and wildland units closer to the areas around Alabama,” Pruitt said.
Currently counting 21 volunteer firefighters and EMTs in the department, Needham told county commissioners he hopes the location and esthetics of the new fire station will help recruit additional volunteers.
“One benefit of this new building versus the old station is it will have a more up-to-date training facility in it,” Pruitt told the News-Sun. “It will have training room with computers and projectors, the systems we need to do all the qualifications for these firefighters. It will have nicer facilities to run things through.”
Cutting response time for volunteer firefighters also helps, Pruitt noted.
“Another benefit of this station is that a lot of the volunteer firefighters do live in the area, so their response times to get to the units is reduced, compared to going to the station on Pinson,” Pruitt continued. “This fire station will improve the response time to the northern Knowles District and, also, will improve the response time to Highway 18 incidents.”
The schedule calls for completion of Knowles No. 2 Fire Station this year, Needham said, but with caveats.
“The timely manner is in the contract. They submitted an additional schedule and it looks like they’re trying to get it done by the December time frame,” Needham told the county commissioners in January. “But any vertical construction right now comes with a lot of asterisks. The supply of materials is what all those asterisks are, so that timeline could push.”
According to the plans, the scope of work includes an approximate 5,759-square-foot building consisting of pre-engineered metal construction, exterior pre-engineered metal roof and wall panel systems, electronics, utilities, doors, mechanical, plumbing and exterior improvements including grading, drainage, asphalt and concrete paving.
In addition to four equipment bays and the training area, the final building as designed will have the office and restrooms with showers.
Meanwhile, a second fire station for Maljamar, west of Lovington, is on the county’s wish list.
“We know that Maljamar has the need for the same thing, more equipment bays, and we know we would like to have a station closer to Lovington where the majority of the volunteers come from,” Needham told the News-Sun.
“So, the current plan is to use some land that was donated by Dan Fields and Branch Ranch to the south of the Lovington Zip Franklin Airport,” Needham added. “We could build a very similar station to the one that we’re building in Knowles.”
But those plans are currently on a back burner.
“We’re not committed to that being the final result, but we do have NCA Architects contracted to do that design, also. We have them on hold right now until we decide that is absolutely what we want to do,” Needham said.