Plans going forward with new fire station in southeast Gilbert - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Plans going forward with new fire station in southeast Gilbert

August 10th, 2017 development
Plans going forward with new fire station in southeast Gilbert

By Jim Walsh

Gilbert’s police and fire departments are getting some much-needed help from the town’s budget this year, which includes funds to build a $6.5 million new fire station in southeast Gilbert and to hire more police officers and firefighters.

The expansion is part of Gilbert’s efforts to keep up with growth. Public officials are thankful for the additional assistance, but they also warn that more resources will be required in future years to deal with growth and to maintain a high level of service.

The new Station 9 will be located at Ocotillo and Higley roads. The Gilbert Fire and Rescue Department also received six new firefighter positions.

“Our goal is always to get people on-scene in four minutes, a fire service standard,” said Cory Gerard, a Gilbert Fire and Rescue spokesman. “It’s an area where we had a gap. It’s to keep up our level of service and match the level of growth in the town,” Gerard also said.

Gilbert police are receiving 13 more positions for sworn officers and three for civilians. New Gilbert Police Chief Mike Soelberg said he now has 253 sworn positions, with 10 cadets attending a police academy and five in field training.

With retirements, Soelberg estimates he has about 18-20 vacancies he needs to fill, not an easy task because of the high qualifications to become a police officer, and the competition for such candidates among Arizona police departments dealing with constant turnover because of retirements.

“It’s a start,” Soelberg said, about the newly-authorized positions. “That’s just one piece of the puzzle, to get adequate resources to keep up with growth.”

Soelberg said he is working on long-term forecasts of how many officers will be needed from now and well into the future. It is a similar process to the forecasting at the Mesa Police Department, where Soelberg served as an assistant chief before his appointment in Gilbert earlier this summer to replace longtime chief Tim Dorn, who retired.

“It creates a high demand for qualified applicants,” Soelberg said. “Right now, we need officers. We have vacancies. We are moving to fill those vacancies.”

Soelberg, who started his new job in June, said his initial focus as police chief is on assuring adequate staffing to keep response times within an acceptable range. Gilbert has been named one of the nation’s safest cities in rankings developed by variety of publications, but that doesn’t mean the town can be short-sighted on staffing. “Crime’s down, but that doesn’t mean we want it to go up, either,” Soelberg said.