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The Hope Volunteer Fire Department has started work on a new, $700,000 station that will offer more space, better facilities and less disruption for the community.
The new station is being built on Aiken and South streets, near the industrial park, about five blocks from the current station just north of the town square.
The department moved to its current location on Harrison Street about 50 years ago, said Ed Stone, the fire department’s treasurer. That building is about 113 years old and has seen service as a livery stable, telephone exchange and roller skating rink.
The department’s first fire house was across Harrison Street and is now the town hall and police department. The prefabricated structure was built as a fire station in 1950 by Force Construction. The town ambulance at the time, a flower truck from Norman Funeral Home, operated out of a lean-to at the back of the building, Stone said.
A ground-breaking ceremony was conducted for the new station Dec. 29 and work began at the site last week, including removing vegetation and starting the footers. The new building, a steel frame structure with pre-assembled parts, was delivered Friday. Construction is expected to be finished in about eight months.
The department plans to take out a $700,000 bank loan for the new building. An independent volunteer company, it is paid through contracts with the town of Hope and Hawcreek Township.
Although the department does have savings, it plans to borrow the funds and pay it off semiannually over the next 20 years, said Fire Chief Jon Ross.
“We put money back for this over the years, but we don’t want to completely deplete all of our funds, because then if we have a truck break down, we are out of luck,” Ross said.
The department has been planning a move for years. Ross has been with the department for 29 years and discussions were under way when he started.
The major stumbling block has been finding consensus. Under the by-laws of the company, any purchase of more than $5,000 must be voted on by all 30 firefighters. Several times, plans for a new station fell apart because of minor disagreements, Ross said.
This time, the department appointed a building committee that was able to put together plans and seek approval after all the details were worked out.
The main reason for the move is space. The department’s six trucks, including a historic 1946 engine and the department’s ambulance, are packed into the Harrison Street station’s three bays like sardines with barely enough room to walk between them.
Getting out the right unit sometimes requires moving and shuffling trucks, and there is not enough space to even open the trucks’ side doors all the way to take out equipment, Stone said.
The firefighters have horror stories of trying to maneuver the modern equipment in the aging building. One was about an aerial truck the department formerly had, which had only about a half an inch of overhead clearance.
The fit was so tight that even a slight jump, such as goosing the gas, would smash the ladder control mechanism into the station’s overhead doors.
The fire trucks have scratched, scraped and battered their way through the 10-foot-wide doors over the years.
In the new station, there will be seven 14-foot-wide bay doors, with four to the south and three to the north. Trucks will be parked tail-to-tail inside the building, with a large common walkway between the bays. Firefighters will be able to use the space for equipment maintenance and testing, rather than having to flake out dirty hoses on the sidewalk outside the current station.
For example, the fire department in January had to perform state-mandatory testing of its hoses, pumps and ladders. Because there is no room in the station to do the tests, they had to shut down Harrison Street.
“We had hose strung across the street and a dump tank in the road,” Stone said. “We had trucks parked out in our lot. ... We shut that street down almost all day.”
The new station will include men’s and women’s restrooms and a shower room. Currently, the station has a single restroom with a makeshift door.
There will be office space for the chief, treasurer, EMS chief and others in the new station. A second floor will be largely empty, ready for future expansions or for bunk rooms if the department ever decides to hire paid firefighters.
“It will be a lot easier to have more functions, whether it be a fish fry or some other kind of event where we can get the community involved,” said Jeff Janes, the department’s emergency medical services chief. “Now, if we want to have a fish fry, all the trucks have to come out, and it is a chore to get ready for something like that because we have no room, other than where the trucks are sitting.”
The new building was designed with energy efficiency in mind, including modern radiant heating and fluorescent lighting. The firefighters estimate they will have three times the space but will have lower energy bills.
“Everything we are doing, we are doing it to save as much energy as we can,” Ross said.
Benefits to the community
The firefighters expect the new location will allow them to have better response times to most fires. Those factors include:
n Because of the new bay configuration and the wider streets near the industrial park, the engines will be able to leave the station more quickly than in the current station.
n The majority of the firefighters live closer to the new station, so they will be able to reach the station more easily.
Historically, the majority of the department’s runs are south and east of town, so the new station will be better positioned for those responses.
n The new station will avoid congestion on the town square.
“There are times you cannot get through the town square, because the town is busy on some evenings,” Stone said.
The firefighters have yet to decide what to do with the old station. For now, they plan to keep it after construction on the new station is completed, at least while the department gets settled into its new home.
There has been talk of selling the old building, possibly to the town, or keeping it as a second station with a few trucks to respond to emergencies in town. They also are considering using it for maintenance or special functions, because of its proximity to the town square.
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