• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

WCFD getting new fire station, training center

FIRE CHIEF John Varner started volunteering with the Woodford County Fire Department at its Station No. 4 north of Midway. A new four-bay fire station and training center will replace the existing station by the end of November if the project remains on schedule, he said. (Photo by Bob Vlach)

The Woodford County Fire Department will soon open a new fire station and training center on Leestown Road, just north of Midway. The 4,050 square-foot station with four truck bays is being built on a five-acre site, with two acres designated for ISO-required firefighter training. The WCFD's current two-bay station on Leestown Road does not have enough acreage for an outdoor training area or a larger station, said Chief John Varner. He said a training room at new Station No. 4 is being built for the future, with an upstairs area that could be used as a living quarters if full-time firefighters are hired there in the coming years. In part because of its close proximity to I-64, Varner said, "That station is our second busiest ... in the county," with his department's busiest being Station No. 1 on Big Sink Pike near the U.S. 60 Bypass. In all, the Woodford County Fire Department houses its seven fire engines, three tankers and five brush trucks at six different stations across the county, Varner said. The WCFD also employs four full-time firefighters, including Varner and Assistant Chief John Smith, but relies heavily on its 46 volunteers who receive $35 when they respond to a fire and vehicle crash in the county - no matter if it's a 15-minute or six-hour run. "They just love doing what they do, and they're good at it," said Varner. He said his volunteers, who get the same training as the full-time firefighters and are just "a great bunch of guys," remain the backbone of the WCFD. They respond when called into service at all hours of the night, and still get up for work the next morning, he added. "We try to keep 10 men on the roster at each station," Varner said. Firefighters also provide backup help to each other. For example, firefighters at Station No. 5 in Mortonsville back up Station No. 3 in Nonesuch - and "if we have a structure fire, we call at least two stations and maybe three out...," Varner said. Also, a mutual aid agreement with other fire departments helps to ensure more manpower and equipment are only a phone call away, according to Varner. He said extreme weather typically "slows everything down. And it's hard on the men and the equipment..." Firefighters also wear turnout gear and a breathing apparatus weighing 50-plus pounds, but "with your adrenaline flowing," he said, "that 50 pounds, you don't even know it's on you..." Varner, who will complete his fifth year as chief next month, became assistant chief under longtime chief Bennie Green in 1996. The Woodford County native started volunteering with the department - ironically at its Midway station - in 1982, he said. The number of emergency runs has increased during his years on the WCFD. Vehicle crashes are especially on the rise over the last 15 years, Varner said. "A lot of accidents, a lot of rollover accidents..." In addition to more people being on the roads, he cited inattention as a significant factor in the rising number of crashes. Seeing a child who's seriously injured or killed "that's the thing that really bothers me," said Varner, tears welling up in his eyes. "You see so much stuff, but everybody handles it different. They really do." A seven-member board oversees the Woodford County Fire Protection District, which originated in 1961 and receives tax revenues to pay the fire department's operating expenses. Prior to a fire district being allowed under state law, three men had organized the Woodford County Fire Protection Association in 1951, which grew into a five-man department before the creation of a fire district, Varner said. If construction of new Station No. 4 remains on schedule, the $700,000 project should be completed by the end of November, he said.

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