MELROSE, Fla. – For the first time since 1948, the unincorporated community of Melrose has a 24-hour fire station.
Melrose is geographically located in the four corners of Alachua, Clay, Putnam and Bradford counties -- about 50 miles southwest of Jacksonville. For decades, the community of about 3,000 people depended on a volunteer-only fire station to respond to emergencies.
The Melrose Volunteer Fire Department was only a 12-hour operation, meaning after a certain hour, volunteers had to leave their homes and pick up gear before responding to an emergency. That resulted in slightly longer response times.
"We might come and pick up a tanker truck or a brush truck or additional apparatus we knew we would need for that emergency," said Bobby Brown, president of the Melrose Volunteer Fire Department.
Now, thanks to a $269,000 contract with Alachua County, the Melrose Volunteer Fire Department can afford to keep two paid firefighters inside the station for 24 hours a day.
Having paid firefighters keeping operations running 24 hours a day at the station means they are ready to go, which shortens emergency response times.
"Before, it used to be a time gap, maybe two minutes. But now, it’s instantaneous," said Joshua Florence, one of the paid firefighters. "Once the pager goes off, we can respond immediately.”
There are 10 firefighters from various counties, except Alachua County, who are now paid to take turns working in pairs for 24 hours inside the Melrose station. Some firefighters come from as far away as Volusia County. There are an additional 30 local volunteer firefighters who come in at various hours to support the paid firefighters.
Melrose residents said the change was needed.
“I’m happy about it because I live in a wooden house, an old wooden house," said Paula Anderson, who lives in Melrose.
Melrose resident Sharron Patton agreed the 24-hour operation is a lot better than the 12-hour operation.
"Absolutely, because fires always happen past that 12th hour," she said.
The contract with Alachua County only lasts for a year, but firefighters are optimistic that the contract will be renewed.