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New beach fire station planned after deputy’s drowning death

GULF SHORES, Ala. (AP) — A new fire station is being planned along an Alabama beach known for drownings following the death of a deputy who went under while trying to save distressed swimmers.

Officials hope the station will make it easier for rescuers to get to people who get in trouble in Gulf waters along Fort Morgan, an unincorporated area west of Gulf Shores, WPMI-TV reported.

“To be able to roll up a door and shoot straight to the beach down the county access is going to shave valuable minutes off response times,” said Joe Emerson, secretary for the Fort Morgan Volunteer Fire Board, which serves the area.

There are no lifeguards or a flag system to warn swimmers of danger along Fort Morgan because the area is a mix of private and state-owned land.

The need for additional safeguards was highlighted in June following the death of Baldwin County Deputy Bill Smith, who died while trying to save others in the area, where drownings typically occur more frequently than in beach towns. Another man died just days after Smith.

“When we have a tragedy, it hits all of us in the community. The department is constantly re-evaluating what can be done better after every call. This is all part of building a better department,” Emerson said.

Volunteer firefighters and a handful of Baldwin County deputies cover roughly 12 miles of beachfront. Building a hurricane-proof fire station just off the beach would allow for improved access for rescuers, he said.

Officials hope to begin construction in October, Emerson said, but the department is awaiting approval from federal officials.

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