June 7, 2006 - In September, the Northwest Fire District moved into a new station on Camino de Oeste, improving response times by about 20 percent in the extreme southern portion of its coverage area.

Station 35, 3220 N. Camino de Oeste, serves the people living west of Interstate 10 and Silverbell Road, mostly south of Sweetwater Drive. An engine company previously ran calls from a temporary station on Trails End Road.

The Pima County Sheriff's Department hopes a new station on Sandario Road will improve its deputies response times to incidents in the greater Avra Valley area, too.

The sheriff's department has formed the Tucson Mountain District, which covers the area west of the interstate, outside of Marana's town limits and up to the Pinal County line. The sheriff has created 12 new positions in preparation for forming the district.

Nineteen deputies will move into a former real estate office at 6265 N. Sandario Road by Aug. 19, said Lt. Victor Fontes, who will supervise the patrol district.

Four sergeants also will work from the station, as well as two administrative staffers.

Call numbers in the area have increased from 6,877 in 2001 to almost 8,400 last year. This year, deputies already have responded to more than 3,200 calls in the Tucson Mountain District's coverage area, according to the sheriff's department.

Those calls have been run by deputies from the Foothills District office, 7300 N. Shannon Road, and the Avra Valley satellite office on Lon Adams Road. Sometimes, deputies get pulled from the Lon Adams station to run calls farther south in the largest and busiest district.

Ten deputies staff the Avra Valley office.

"The problem is that the Northwest section and the Southeast are the two fastest growing areas," Capt. Warren Alter said. "We're experiencing additional calls for service that a few deputies based out of an office on Ina Road can't cover."

The Northwest Fire District staffs Station 35 with a four-person engine crew, which includes a captain, paramedic and two firefighters. Support drivers work part-time.

The National Fire Protection Agency recently issued new response time guidelines. Emergency crews should arrive on scene within five minutes of a call 90 percent of the time, the NFPA recommends.

NWFD crews had met that standard slightly less than 40 percent of the time before the move into the Camino de Oeste station, Chief Jeff Piechura said.

The district wants to get to scenes within five minutes 85 percent of the time, the chief added.

"That's the goal. The problem is the Northwest is so spread out."

Station 35 has seen an increase of almost 40 percent in calls in one year. In 2004-2005, an average of six minutes and 25 seconds elapsed between the time crews left the station and got to an emergency. Since the move, the median drive time has improved to five minutes and 13 seconds, according to district response time statistics.

Before the move, crews reached emergencies within five minutes mostly south of Ironwood Hill Drive. Crews since have reached scenes within five minutes from Sweetwater Drive all the way south past Speedway Boulevard.

Formerly a residence, the 8,455-square-foot Station 35 cost $1.2 million to remodel.

NWFD also plans to expand its coverage in Marana to keep up with growth. The district soon will circulate petitions to annex almost 1,500 acres between Tangerine and Moore roads, Piechura said.

The annexation would include the second Gladden Farms development, slated for 1,750 homes.

In addition, NWFD and Marana could finally reach an agreement on a dispatch deal, which would place 14 fire dispatchers in Marana's town hall.

"That's probably a couple years out," Town Manager Mike Reuwsaat said.

Marana planned to get thousands of dollars from fire districts this year for contracting dispatch services. But the dispatch center, built to accommodate more dispatchers, remains almost barren, save the town's police dispatchers.

Meanwhile, NWFD continues to use the Tucson Fire Department communication system.

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