The Sandy Springs Planning Commission recommended approval for the city’s planned Fire Station No. 5 at 7800 Mount Vernon Road, which sits near the center of the northern panhandle surrounded by residential subdivisions.

The Aug. 18 meeting started on a somber note as Chairman Andy Porter asked for a moment’s silence in memory of commission member Kevin King, who died from complications with COVID-19 after surgery.

Fire Station 5 is proposed for the intersection of Mount Vernon Road and Spalding Drive in Sandy Springs.

“I would just like to take a moment also to say, in times like these, it’s a reminder to all of us. Those people that are special to you, those people that you love, those people that you maybe don’t say it too often enough … Take some time and make sure you reach out to them and tell them you love them,” Porter said.

Regarding the new fire station, the city seeks a conditional use permit for the project located at the intersection of Mount Vernon Road and Spalding Drive.

Building a fire station on this property to serve approximately 18,000 residents would reduce response times in the panhandle from 8-10 minutes down to 2-5 minutes, said Alexandra Horst, an urban planner with the city’s Community Development Department.

Fire Station No. 1, which now sits at 1425 Spalding Drive, three miles away, will eventually relocate to the new public safety headquarters property at 620 Morgan Falls Road, which is more than five miles from the property.

Fire Station No. 5 will be two stories with an engine bay. Its maximum height will be 40 feet. Staff access via driveway is planned off Mount Vernon Road, with fire apparatus access off Spalding Drive, she said. Thirteen parking spaces are planned for firefighters and visitors to the fire station.

Hazen Dempster, a Knights Ridge Court resident, spoke in opposition of the fire station location as a representative of Deerfield North subdivision. The fire station’s staff access driveway would be directly across from the protected neighborhood on Mount Vernon Road.

Dempster said the fire station would be surrounded by single-family dwellings. The homeowners researched all fire stations within a 10-mile radius of this location.

“We cannot find a single instance of a fire station that was surrounded by single-family housing. In all cases, they are adjacent to … retail, industrial, schools, apartments or parks,” he said.

Fire stations aren’t in neighborhoods because they are noisy, he said. 

“By placing this fire station in this area, I think we are creating a dangerous precedent for the city. How can the city enforce its rules protecting neighborhoods against developers and others if they’re not going to observe them themselves by placing us here without any sort of buffer?” Dempster asked.

The homeowners’ solution was to maintain the existing Fire Station No. 1 and build a new fire station near Spalding and River Exchange inside the city so it wouldn’t be required to answer Roswell fire calls.

Fire Chief Keith Sanders said the fire station will be limited to a single engine, which will be operated by four firefighters. Shift changes would mean eight vehicles at the station for a short time.

The fire chief promised only residential trash cans and recycling bins will be used. Exterior lighting would consist of residential floodlights that only would be lit when necessary. 

“Sirens will not be utilized in responding to non-emergency calls and will not be utilized unless necessary during emergency calls,” Horst said.

Sanders said since shortly after he became fire chief in 2014, he has been searching for a location for the fire station. The city has an ISO requirement for response times for the first engine that arrives on a scene. Since the city did not meet those times, he put a fire station in the city of Roswell at its station on Holcomb Bridge Road almost a mile outside of city limits. Four fighters and an engine are located at that station.

“But under that agreement, they have to run calls inside the city limits of Roswell as well. They run three to one calls into Roswell, versus coming into Sandy Springs,” he said.

A new fire station is needed because for every minute that an individual’s heart is not beating, the chance for survival drops 10 percent, said the fire chief. All Sandy Springs fire trucks are ALS – advanced life support – with paramedics on each unit.

Another reason is because a fire doubles in size every minute until flashover, when they grow seven times as large for every minute, he said. 

Fire vehicles can now trigger traffic signals to turn green upon their approach, which reduces the need for sirens, Sanders said.

“It is a very difficult area to put a fire station. We’ve made an effort to make it look residential, made the commitment there would only ever be one truck assigned to that station,” he said.

Richard O’Gorman, a 21-year resident of the panhandle, lives there with his wife and 91-year-old mother-in-law. He’s a captain for the city’s Fire Corps, the volunteer unit for the fire department. His reason for supporting the new fire station was response time, he said. It takes 10 minutes to reach his house with current stations. The new station would cut that time to three minutes.

He also responded to opponents of the location with the promise to not use sirens when unnecessary, and he said the firefighters would be good neighbors.

Bob Pepalis

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Reporter Newspapers.