The notion of where to locate, or relocate a fire station for a given community generally only comes up once in someone's career as a public servant, since fire stations are meant to be serviceable for about 30-50 years.  In an established city, like Ludington, there often will be a limited number of places available within reason that a new station can go when the City sells the old property for economic development reasons.  Let's take a look at what would make an ideal location from knowledgeable sources about such placement, and transfer those ideas to Ludington.  We discussed the basics already in Fire Station Location 101.

What Expert Planners Say

In a classic look at fire station location planning developed in Chicago, a long winded report on most factors deciding the optimal location for a fire station, the rationales can be filtered down to a few principles: 

A.  Inventory Existing Facilities:  This involves figuring out what apparatus and equipment you have (or may have in the near future) and deciding whether the geometry of the lot and the infrastructure of the area can effectively support a station.  Ludington already has architect plans for the station that supposedly address this. 

B.  Determine Service Areas:  In a relocation, service areas are already established, so there may need to be adjustments of those areas if a significant move is made.  Service areas should be appropriate to a radius around the fire station-- ideally that radius should be as small as possible for all parts of the district.  When totally new stations are proposed, they should be located to cover up areas outside existing service areas, as noted in this 1952 proposal in San Francisco:

C.  Select Sites:  The article lists several characteristics of what makes a good location for a fire station and what wouldn't.  Of most interest and relevance is the criteria selected by the Missouri Inspections Bureau who offer the following for areas where the population is less than 25,000 people:

1. The firehouse should not be on a heavily traveled street because of difficulty and danger in entering the traffic stream.

2. It should not be on a major corner because of the difficulty in making "U" turns of short radius out of the station house.

3. A site on the crest of a rise is preferable to one on the side or bottom of a slope. The run should begin downhill to gain speed quickly. Good sight distances, however, are more important than slope.

4. A wide street allows for maneuver space for apparatus.

5. It is better to run into an area of concentrated value than to have the station located there.

6. There should be easy access to arterial streets leading to all sections of the service district.

7. One-way streets are not desirable, as they do not allow for zigzagging through intersections in heavy traffic.

8. Station should not be located at the near side of a traffic light because traffic may back up so as to block egress from the station.

It should be noted that the current Ludington fire station has each of these characteristics, as well as a centralized location in its current service area.  The Tinkham location has at best six.

A Look at Ludington Geography

Ludington's area is 3.71 square miles, a tenth of that covered by water.  If Ludington was circular, it would be slightly less than 1.1 mile in radius, if it was square its sides would be slightly less than two miles long.  But like most cities, it is rather odd shaped, and due primarily to the water-influenced geographical features, it can offer some challenges for a simple solution to locating a station.   

The challenge in getting around to all locations in Ludington is not only from it's geography, but also from its orientation of thru-streets, dead end streets, one-way streets, and 3 & 4-way stop intersections.  Typically, if you live north of Ludington Avenue, the north-south streets have stop signs/lights only at Ludington, Tinkham and Bryant-- the three east-west thru streets.  If you live in the south, then the east-west streets are all through, except at Rath, James, Washington and Madison (with the exception of the William-Loomis intersection), these thru-streets that have no stop or yield regulation except at their ends (trunk lines), are mapped below for most of Ludington.

Thus, 'Northerners' travel north or south when in a hurry, 'Southerners' go west or east.  This will apply to firefighters going to the station and to a scene that are not on major trunk lines.

If we disregard the small bit of Ludington on the Epworth peninsula (which is already over two miles closer to the Pere Marquette fire station) and the Cartier Park/Lakeview Cemetery area (which doesn't get many fire calls) it's about 3.5 miles to get from the two most remote parts of Ludington.  The current station is roughly in the middle of those two.  The proposed station on Tinkham is about 2.5 miles away from the Fourth Ward extreme location with multiple turns.

Comparing an Average Call for Fire Station Locations

The map below is a Ward Map of Ludington city, with school safety zone (SSZ) locations outlined in yellow, actual school property in blue.   If you zoom into the map, you can see the basic home locations of the current Ludington firefighters (some may not be totally up to date accurate, two have no given location, and possibly rent, live with someone else, or live out of town).

Oddly enough, current locations of firefighters are better for the new location than the average situation would allow, since there is a cluster of them right under the high school.  About half of the department could avoid driving on Washington and Tinkham in their response through the sometimes chaotic school zone by either going up Staffon Street or coming down Monona.  The location change would definitely be better for Chief Funk and former Mayor John Henderson as far as response. 

It should be worth noting that shortly after Henderson got in as mayor, both he and Chief Funk moved away from their homes, that were quite near the existing fire station, to their current locales as did Lieutenant Gary Walton who works full-time for the city.  I used to wonder why they would move farther away from the downtown station and ruin their response times, but it seems a lot clearer now with their push for this location and the Varsity Cleaners location, even when the city council brought them property on Dowland.

But we have four fire officers getting deeper in their retirement age, and a younger part of the department that has a lot of turnover, so looking at the situation as it is now would be mostly pointless to see whether the Tinkham location is good or not.  Let's try to compare it to the two other locations and see how it stacks up when we choose a firefighter coming from the population center of each of the six wards (which are drawn up to be equal in population) and see what the distance traveled will be.

Here's where we locate our six firefighters and their six emergencies in their wards:

1) On the corner of St.Paul and Quevillion

2) On the corner of Emily and Whittier

3) On the corner of Rath and Court

4) On the corner of Adams and Second

5) On the corner of Dexter and Staffon

6) On the corner of Madison and Foster

Each corner is chosen due to its likelihood of being closest to the population center of that ward.

When the street distances were measured on the ward map from the three stations to the center of each ward the following was gleaned:

Which, if any, is at the best location?  It may be hard to judge which is the best location, unless you add the six lengths together, when you do the Loomis and Dowland Street locations come in at 32.5 and 34.5 inches respectively.  The Tinkham location adds up to 44, more than 30% greater than the current Loomis location. 

This means that on the average, not only will firefighters travel distances be 30% more to the station, but this added percentage will also extend to getting to emergencies in the city.  But it's even worse, because the areas most susceptible to fire and other emergencies are more than a mile away from the Tinkham location, such as the dense downtown, the older factories and the older parts of the city in the lower numbered wards that often lack fire suppression systems, firewalls, and fire-safe construction that are far more common in the newer eastern sections of town. 

A station nestled among newer schools and medical buildings will not have a lot of short runs for fires.  Either of the other two station locations will more than likely be closest to most involved fires. 

Lastly, but not leastly, it cannot be stressed that both Loomis and Dowland locations are far away from school and hospital zones, unlike the Tinkham location which is in multiple zones.  Even those firefighters closest to the station must speed through school zones throughout their travel to the fire station located in the epicenter of at least three school zones. 

Going up Staffon Street for some current firefighters may circumvent the main problem area on North Washington and Tinkham.  But Staffon is still well traveled by pedestrians and even though Ludington had a Complete Streets resolution which stated that the city would install pedestrian facilities if they were not existing before when they tear up a street, but in 2011 when Staffon was completely renovated they didn't do that on Staffon for five blocks in a school zone!

I value the safety and health of my fellow citizens, that's why I joined the Ludington Fire Department back in early 2001.  I will not have that compromised by the very group whose concerns should be the same, and yet want to put a fire station in a dangerous and remote location.

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Fantastic job of analyzing the situation X. I'm sure those who are supposed to be in charge have not looked at this the way you have. The only thing I can see that will always be in flux is the location of the firefighters residences. Who knows where they will be living in the next 5 years and where any new firefighters will call home. I hope but rather doubt that the leaders of the City will consider what you have proposed. I will be curious to know what their reasons are for choosing Tinkham. Of course that is obvious but the excuses they will come up with will be interesting to hear.

Our city leaders effectively 'admitted' how confident they were about this site by not mentioning or hinting about it to the public until the weekend before they purchased it.  Now that they have committed $105,000 for this property, they can quietly discharge the Dowland property for a major loss of the $100,000 plus they invested in it.

Thanks for the thumbs up, Willy, and I will bet that the city leaders will never disclose to us the real reason why they brought this property, why they think that this is such a great location (other than Chief Funk's unjustified monologs in the COLDNews), or why it isn't suspicious that a developer brought a lot with a long term goal of having it be a food pantry warehouse-- a lot part-owned by a city councilor who resigned and moved away in 2011 and adjacent to a commercial lot purchased by John Henderson in 2012. 

I would wager this is part of a greater, as yet secret, deal that will be made at taxpayer's expense for the purpose of 'economic development' with the ultimate goal to get a hotel/convention center in the downtown.  Chances are though that it may never develop and the public will have been flimflammed without knowing it.


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