Co-op partnerships deliver second fire station
Recognizing Ashford’s potential for growth, both in number of homes as well as businesses, Wiregrass leaders developed a plan for infrastructure needed to keep Ashford and Houston County citizens safe. A decade after the effort began, the fruits of that collaboration and forward-thinking are ripening with the construction of the Ashford Fire Southside Station.
The second of the community’s fire stations, it’s expected to accommodate growth for the next 20 to 30 years. With the capacity to offer 24/7 emergency service, the facility is a potential catalyst for economic expansion by establishing the fast response times needed by hotels, motels and similar businesses. Similarly, residents will be assured emergency services aren’t far away, something future developers can emphasize in their plans.
Wiregrass Electric Cooperative and PowerSouth Energy Cooperative provided funds for two-thirds of the total project cost through their Revolving Loan Fund, contributing $300,000 through a loan with a 10-year term at 1% interest.
“It is wonderful to partner with the great City of Ashford and help finally bring this dream to fruition for people who live here and the businesses that exist now and in the future,” says Brad Kimbro, WEC’s chief operating officer. “When we brought this idea and opportunity to our WEC board, it was a quick yes. We’re happy to play a part in making the Wiregrass a better, safer place for our members and our neighbors.”
The fund provides low-interest loans to individuals, companies or municipalities to help them finance their projects or businesses. Creation and retention of local jobs are key goals of the effort.
“This is a great project,” says Caleb Goodwin, community development and finance representative for PowerSouth. “We are fortunate to have the resources we do at PowerSouth, such as our Revolving Loan Fund, that allow us to do what really is our core mission: to serve communities and do everything we can to help them advance community and economic development." The Revolving Loan fund exists to help PowerSouth’s member systems fund projects that benefit their communities.
The city of Ashford will fund the remaining $200,000, and the Houston County Road and Bridge Department will prepare the site for construction.
Ready for Launch
A groundbreaking ceremony in May for the new fire station was attended by the Wiregrass’ state delegation, representatives from PowerSouth and WEC, local commissioners and leaders and members of Ashford’s fire and road and bridge departments.
“There’s one thing that I’ve learned to live by as an elected official,” state Sen. Donnie Chesteen says. “When communities come to you with a request, find a way. That’s exactly what we did right here. It couldn’t have happened without the partnership, without people and Wiregrass Electric and PowerSouth stepping up and saying, ‘We can help.’ Support for projects like this for our small towns is very, very important.”
Goodwin also lauded WEC’s partnership and elected officials in the Wiregrass and statehouse.
“Really, without them none of this would have been possible,” Goodwin says. “I know this is going to make a difference in this community by greatly enhancing public safety. We want fire department members to be adequately prepared and equipped and ready to respond when they’re needed.”
Duty to Serve
The volunteer fire department in Ashford has operated at least since the early 1950s, but it’s outgrown the existing fire station close to the city’s historic downtown, says to Ashford Fire Department’s Chief of Operations Jeff Posey.
“The new station will provide more garage space to protect our equipment from the elements, provide more indoor and outdoor space for training new members and be more visible to the public because of its location,” Posey says.
The new station will put emergency equipment on both sides of the railroad tracks, improving response times and better accommodating growth, says Jimmy Posey, longtime Ashford fire chief.
“This is a very special time for the City of Ashford,” Mayor Carole Barfield says. “The journey for me started in 2010, when we first got the property to put our station on, but the idea only really started becoming a reality when Sen. Chesteen, Rep. Paul Lee, Wiregrass Electric and PowerSouth got involved with the project. We are very thankful for their assistance.”
Houston County Commissioner Doug Sinquefield says, “Being here in Ashford and seeing the growth and the prosperity that we’ve seen over the years, I just get too excited — more excited than I get at the beach with the grand-young’uns sometimes.