BONHAM — The Bonham Community’s rapid and ongoing transformation into an industrial hub of Union County has created a need for a modern firefighting facility capable of adapting to and growing with the needs of the community and that’s what it now has with the new Bonham Fire Station.
“Eight years ago Bonham was a very rural district and the (Bonham Fire) department handled a few house fires, but mainly car fires and vegetation fires,” Captain Phillip Russell of the Bonham Fire Department said Monday. “We now have two industrial parks — Commerce and Mac Johnston — and a number of industries such as Gonvauto, Gestamp, Standard Textile, Southeastern Emulsion, Timken Repairs, and Santuc Precision.
“Our call volume is now one hundred and ten to one hundred and twenty a year on average with thirty percent being confirmed structure fires, thirty percent false alarms or alarm malfunctions, twenty percent are automobile accidents involving extrication, fifteen percent are miscellaneous including Hazmat,” he said. “We provide fire inspections and training for the local industries and we back up EMS if they need us at Ellen Sagar (Nursing Center) and we also respond to any fires there.”
The growth the Bonham Community has experienced in recent years and the increased demand for the services of the Bonham Fire Department provided the impetus for the construction of the new fire station. That fire station, located at 2091 Jonesville Highway, will have its formal opening with a Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony followed by an Open House on Thursday, April 19, from 6-8 p.m.
Russell pointed out that the growth of industry in the community provided further impetus for the construction of the new fire station as the site where the old station was located was needed to help facilitate future industrial expansion.
“Gestamp wanted the old property for economic development,” Russell said. “The Union County Economic Development Fund purchased the old property.”
In July 2016, Union County Supervisor Frank Hart said that the old Bonham Fire Department building was located adjacent to the Union Commerce Park and near the H. Mac Johnson Industrial Park, both of which are located between USC 176 and SC 18, and as such is a prime location for future industrial development. Hart made these remarks after Union County Council had voted to allocate $600,000 from the Economic Development Fund to help the Bonham Fire Department relocate and thus open up its old location for economic development, either in the recruitment of new industry or facilitating the expansion of existing industry.
The county continued to assist the Bonham Fire Department with its effort to relocate and build a new fire station in December 2016 when council voted to loan $300,000 from the Economic Development Fund to the department. The loan, which the department used to help build the new fire station, is to be repaid to the county over seven years at the rate of $42,857 a year.
Hart said at the time that the loan was part of the county’s efforts to facilitate “Project Wolverine,” the $290 million expansion of a local manufacturing facility which would generate 100 new jobs. He said the incentive package the county had assembled for Project Wolverine included transferring the old Bonham Fire Department site to the industry undertaking the expansion.
(It was revealed in 2017 that Project Wolverine was the expansion of the Gestamp manufacturing facility.)
At the end of February 2017, ground was broken for the new, state-of-the art fire station and during the ceremony Bonham Fire District Chairman Chris Scott spoke about the role the industrial growth occurring in Bonham had played in the decision to build a new fire station, a fire station he said would be designed to accommodate the department’s future growth.
“The increase of industry here in this district pointed us in this direction,” Scott said. “Gestamp needed our land and we needed bigger facilities with the possibility of growth in the near future, the possibility of more trucks and more firefighters. It will be easier for us to house them.”
Russell said that the department began operating out of the new facility — which he said cost $1.3 million to build — on the last day of February of this year. He said the facility is, as Scott said in 2017, state-of-the art with more facilities for the department’s 19 volunteer firefighters to make use of and designed so as to accommodate any and all future growth the department may experience.
“This facility has a training room/kitchen combination, a physical fitness room, multiple offices, a day room, four drive-thru apparatus bays, a work area, and bathrooms with showers,” Russell said. “The building was designed with future growth in mind.”
Russell said the new facility is the result of a collaboration between the Bonham Fire District Board and Fire Chief Scott Austin, Hart and Union County Council, County Engineer Jerry Brannon, Monty Kingsmore and his company Kingsmore Construction which served as the contractor, and architect David Langley who designed the facility. He said that because of this collaborative effort the new fire station is now in operation and will be for many years to come.
“We’ve already had our first training session and others are planned,” Russell said. “We’re really looking forward to what this facility can bring to the citizens.”