A new first responder “safe room” is now in the works in the city of Foley to protect those who help the community recover after a storm.
The destruction left behind in Baldwin County after Hurricane Sally in September of 2020 was a harsh reminder of the worst impacts after a major storm.
With trees down and roads underwater, it can be a struggle for first responders to get to where they’re needed.
The city of Foley’s planned safe room will keep first responders protected, even during a Category 5 hurricane, helping them get into the community to help others much more quickly.
“We learned we really need a facility. We just don’t know, depending on how bad it is, how quickly we can get them in after the wind dies down,” said Foley Fire Chief Joseph Darby.
Chief Darby said that’s why work is underway to design and build an 8,000 square-foot safe room which can withstand 200 mph winds and hold up to 200 first responders.
“Having a place to hold them safely is absolutely critical. It will give us a centralized location as an operations center as well. It’s going to improve our services across the board,” Chief Darby said.
Foley Mayor Ralph Hellmich said the $3.2-million facility will be built on Poplar Street, near Highway 59, using a hazard mitigation grant available through FEMA.
It would be the only city building able to withstand above a Category 2 hurricane.
“We’ll have some other outside agencies, like the state troopers and sheriff’s department, because we’d be the closest safe room to the Gulf of Mexico. Any of our neighbors would be welcome to come use it,” said Hellmich.
The city of Daphne used a FEMA grant to build their own safe room in 2020.
When Foley’s room isn’t needed during an emergency, it can also be used as a first responder training facility.
“It’s not a matter of if we’re going to be hit by a storm, it’s when. Maybe it’ll be another 15 years like it has between the big ones. However, we do everything we can to be prepared,” Hellmich said.
Chief Darby said the safe room is currently in the state approval process, and construction will likely begin in 2022.