Conway Assistant Fire Chief Mike Winter said the tax rededication passed by city residents in February is beginning to pay off for the department.
Winter, speaking to the Conway Kiwanis Club on Wednesday, said the results of the bond issue will be felt in a few days when nearly $700,000 worth of radio equipment arrives.
“Not only will this communication equipment meet the [Federal Communications Commission] standard for 2013, it will meet it for 2017,” Winter said. “To be honest, our communications were depleted, and now we are taking care of our future.”
Winter said the department should be able to use about $6 million for various needs, but since most of the funds will be in use, the department will be looking for additional funds in order to place a station near the new airport.
“We will be looking for funding for that down the road,” he said, adding that the department is planning for a training facility upgrade and a citizens fire academy.
The need for upgrades and new equipment stems from the increase in firefighters from the time Winter’s father was serving in Conway. The force has grown from 35 about 17 years ago to 105 uniformed firefighters now. Winter also pointed out the additional responsibilities taken on by the department during that time. In the past, many firefighters were “on call,” spending most of their time at the station until being called out for fires.
Now, Winter said, only 20-25 percent of a firefighter’s work is directly with fires. The other time is spent primarily on medical calls. All firefighters have emergency medical training and are able to respond quicker than an ambulance because of the number of stations.
“If you’re having a heart attack, you want someone to be there as soon as possible, and our average response time is three minutes,” Winter said.
The department responded to about 11,000 calls in 2011, and most were medical related.
Winter said the past two decades have seen the department branch out and deal with hazardous materials as well as form a bomb squad.
“I think the department of the past said, ‘Give us something to do,’” he said. “And we have accepted everything that has been added to our plate.”