Ocala’s First Responder Campus: From Vision to Reality
Provided by the City of Ocala
Amid a crowd of approximately 200 people, Ocala Fire Rescue (OFR) and the Ocala Police Department (OPD) celebrated the ribbon cutting ceremony of the City of Ocala’s First Responder Campus Thursday, Jan. 10.
Housing OFR’s Fire Station No. 1 and OPD’s East District Office, the campus located at 340 NE Eighth Ave. is comprised of two buildings. With an art deco design reminiscent of renowned Ocala structures like the Marion Theatre and the Reilly Arts Center, the campus denotes its rightful place in the progressive plans underway toward a vibrant Tuscawilla Park.
This catalytic move that united fire and police officers in one campus came to fruition thanks to years of work and research from City staff and unwavering support from taxpayers.
As the City of Ocala evolved to meet current and future needs of the community, the revitalization of Tuscawilla Park became essential. This realization gave way to a series of seemingly unrelated events which paved the way for the development of the City’s first First Responder Campus.
It was law enforcement’s proactive patrolling of the Tuscawilla Park area that led to the identification of buildings which fostered drug activity, disorderly conduct and trespassing. These daily operations prompted the successful seizure of dilapidated structures in the area.
As time progressed, the need for increased funding for first responder agencies within Marion County became apparent. It was then when taxpayers’ votes, echoing administrators concerns, not only confirmed the need for additional funding, but approved a solution by way of the Marion County Penny Sales Tax. The tax, passed in 2016 and set to sunset in 2020, would fund public safety and transportation infrastructure. To Ocala Fire Rescue, this sales tax was pivotal in transforming the vision of relocating, or building, a more strategic location into a reality.
Merging law enforcement officers’ input with both fire and police response time objectives, the City was able to identify NE Eighth Avenue as an optimal location for the First Responder Campus.
Collaboration between OPD, Code Enforcement and other City departments, facilitated the clearing of seized structures along the 300 block of NE Eighth Ave. This available land would soon become the home of a more visible and accessible fire station and police district office.
“I’m so thankful for the tireless efforts of the men and women of OPD who played a significant role in making this campus possible,” said Ocala Mayor Kent Guinn. “Not only will this campus serve the City as a whole but it will enhance the quality of life of residents and visitors of the Tuscawilla Historic District.”
In addition to the centralization of OFR’s Station No. 1 and OPD’s East District Office, the First Responder Campus is expected to serve as a deterrent of illicit activities, due to the presence of responders within.
The white buildings adorned with a colored line – red for OFR’s Fire Station No. 1 and blue for OPD’s East District Office – may house individuals who share the need to serve, but their operational functions are entirely different.
OFR’s Station No. 1 will house a fire engine, a rescue unit, a tower truck, and a battalion chief vehicle – four of the six units which used comprise old Station No. 1’s fleet. This change, however, is far from a reduction, as the remaining two units – the squad and the training captain’s vehicle – will be aptly placed at Station No. 7, which is home to the department’s special operation’s unit.
Like all OFR stations, the new Fire Station No. 1 exists to aid in the prevention and mitigation of fire and medical emergencies. Services including station tours, blood pressure checks and safety presentations, among others, will be available to the public.
“Bidding farewell to the building on NE Third Street has not been easy,” said Ocala Fire Chief Shane Alexander, referencing the fact that the previous station had been OFR’s home since 1967. ” Yet, the knowledge that a move of a few blocks will increase the presence of public safety personnel where it’s needed, while decreasing response times during emergencies, certainly helps with the transition.”
“As we move forward, we do so with the enthusiasm of new beginnings and the honor of serving alongside our brothers in blue, as cornerstones of the movement toward a new era for the Tuscawilla Park area,” continued Chief Alexander.
OPD’s East District Office will be utilized by Community Policing and Investigations Bureaus. It will also be the primary office location for six Property Crimes detectives, one Detective Sergeant, and OPD’s East District Captain. The building design includes additional space for interview rooms with video and audio recording capabilities, report writing stations for officers on patrol in the East District, an evidence packaging station, and a conference room available for community meetings.
“On behalf of the almost 300 women and men of the Ocala Police Department, I am proud to represent them in saying thank you for all of the support we have received from our community,” said Ocala Police Chief Greg Graham. “If you look at what goes on around the nation, it is clear that this community is special.” OM
For information regarding community programs offered by OFR and OPD, visit www.ocalafire.org or www.ocalapd.com.
To learn more, please contact Ocala Fire Rescue at 352-629-8306 or the Ocala Police Department at 352-369-7000.