Something has to give, says Rick Cole, the Hagerstown-Jefferson Township fire chief. The fire station is too small and it’s deteriorating.
It looks like the town is starting to move on expansion or building anew. Town Council President Becky Diercks said they will be talking about options with Cole and a consultant, possibly at Monday’s council meeting.
Three garage bays housed all of the Hagerstown Fire Department’s trucks and its equipment when the current brick building opened on North Plum Street more than 60 years ago. Two town utilities trucks occupied another two bays. The basement, off an alley, housed the police department with two garage bays for their vehicles.
Today, all three of those departments have outgrown the building. Utilities vehicles and equipment have been moved to two buildings and an outdoor storage yard west of town. The police department moved to Town Hall and officers keep their vehicles at home.
Only the fire department is still located in the fire station, with vehicles occupying all five street-level garage bays. The lower level includes a training room and storage, with some seldom-used equipment kept in a metal shipping container out back.
When the building opened, the fire department’s three trucks served Hagerstown. Now, the volunteer force provides fire protection in all of Jefferson Township and part of Dalton Township. Jefferson Township buys some of the trucks and contributes to the department’s annual budget. Dalton Township also provides funding.
The trucks these days are longer and heavier than when the building opened, Cole said, and so the concrete floors are showing cracks. When the building opened with three shorter trucks, the department had more space for equipment or even a small vehicle behind the trucks. Now, all five bays have vehicles in them and some barely fit. The concrete apron in front of the building is crumbling.
There’s not enough space to store equipment required for modern firefighting.
Women are joining what used to be an all-male department. There is no separate bathroom for them or anywhere to clean up and change clothing if needed.
The training classroom is nice but should be larger to better accommodate attendance from more departments.
The fire department can be called upon to open the building as an emergency shelter or a warming station during frigid weather. There is no place to accommodate that.
A ventilation system is needed to push exhaust out of the roof when truck engines are running with people in the building.
And, “We’d like to have a small kitchen so we could have fundraisers like other departments have, and in the winter, we could make coffee and take it out to the guys,” Cole said. A small workout room for firefighters would be helpful, he said.
As much as he’d like to have an all-new fire station, Cole believes it’s more realistic to hope for an addition. Based on what he has seen from building projects at other fire departments, Cole believes a pole-building addition could be built for somewhere around $800,000. Architects hired to perform the feasibility study would evaluate possible locations in addition to construction costs. Cole would like to keep the station centrally located in town.
Cole approached the Town Council this summer, urging members to take steps leading to a feasibility study about how best to provide for the fire department’s current and future needs. He is hopeful that a feasibility study would lead to a sizable design and construction grant from the state Office of Community and Rural Affairs.
A first step in qualifying for state funding of the feasibility study would be an income survey of residents in the fire department’s service area, Cole said. Council members had said it would not have the income survey done in time to apply for that grant by an August deadline. Cole said he hopes the income survey can be done yet this year. In a best-case scenario, that could lead to construction in about two years.
On Monday, the Town Council will discuss the income survey, said Council President Becky Diercks.
“Council is well aware that the current fire station needs to be fixed, for lack of a better word. Right now it is nickel-and-diming the fire department, which has an extremely tight budget,” she said in an email to Western Wayne News.
“The planning grant will examine the feasibility of any project,” Diercks said. “If it proves to be feasible then the actual grant for the fire department will be applied for.”
The council will mainly be talking about a different $90,000 OCRA grant. It will allow for an Indianapolis architectural firm, Triad Associates, to study and plan for future needs of the town water, wastewater and stormwater systems.
The council meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 2, in Town Hall, 49 E. College St. The public may attend and the meeting will be livestreamed on WGTV (cable Channel 11).
A version of this article appeared in the September 27 2023 print edition of the Western Wayne News.