Firefighters say goodbye to station

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 14, 2002

Although everyone agrees a new fire house is desperately needed, moving out of the current station is bittersweet for the Ironton Fire Department as they must say goodbye to the building that has been home

for nearly one hundred years.

"I think everyone has expressed some emotions," Chief Tom Runyon said. "To an extent, it will be heartbreaking to leave."

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"Every corner you turn, you remember things that have happened or stories," he said. "We will miss those, but this building has outlived its time."

While cleaning out the station, Runyon, who has been in the department for 16 years -- five as the chief -- found a stick that a former captain would shake at him to try and keep him in line.

"I always had a way of aggravating people," he said with a laugh.

"It has been a roller-coaster ride. We have seen some ups and downs."

The department hosted a dinner Thursday for retired members of the force to provide them one last opportunity to visit the building filled with memories.

The station was constructed in 1919 by Frank Smith, said George Bruce, a retired captain who served the department for 29 years. Through the years, Ironton added two more stations -- one on Buckhorn Street and one on Third Street, but the city could not support all of them and only the Fourth Street station remains.

Carl Witt served in the IFD for 26 years -- eight as chief.

He said the building brings back "too many stories to put into words."

If something was broken, they fixed it themselves because there was not enough money to go around. It is a wonderful to see that a new station has been made a priority, he said.

"I am glad to see them get a new station," he said. "They deserve it and the city of Ironton deserves it."

Capt. Jim Reynolds was part of the department for more than 30 years and was acting chief for two. He said the building conjures up some nostalgic feelings and he remembers numerous funny stories.

"One time, we left a guy laying at the bottom of the pole," he said. "He slid down and lifted his feet up too soon and dropped straight to the ground.

He was all right so we went on to the fire."

Reynolds also remembers a time when they had taken up the treads on the stairs to repair them. Thinking they were safe on the second floor, they took a coffee break. Former-Chief Jim Brown knew what they were up to and pulled a ladder off one of the trucks and came up through the fire pole opening in the floor to catch them taking a break.

Firefighters young and old have stories to tell.

For Captain Steve Lewis, fire fighting is a family affair and it seemed natural for him to join the department that he has now been a part of for more than 15 years. His father, Ralph, served for 26 years.

"We have had a lot of good times. I practically grew up around this building," Steve Lewis said. "I probably won't miss walking up those stairs though."

While the new station is being built, the fire department will use a 12 by 60 foot trailer on the Second Street side of the municipal garage as a temporary home. It will serve as the offices, dorms and storage.

"This is where they will live, sleep and eat on their 24-hour shifts for the next year," Runyon said.

Working out of the temporary station will not be a problem because the crew and trucks are still centrally located and accessible by the main roads, he said.

After more than four years of working towards replacing the building, construction of the 10,600-square-foot structure will begin Monday and should be completed within a year.

Despite progress made in recent months, city officials had been hesitant to celebrate until the construction actually began. An official ground breaking ceremony is tentatively scheduled for Dec. 20.

The new one-story structure will be built on Fourth Street on the site of the current building. The new station will accommodate up to 30 firefighters, four vehicles and includes living space, offices, a room for community services and a three-story training tower.

The building will be geared towards modern fire fighting and was designed so that it should meet all of their needs for the next 50 to 75 years, Runyon said.

He said the designs have left room for improvements as the bays will accommodate the larger trucks and more bays could be added if necessary.

"A new station will provide a better situation for public education," he said. "The facility, having a training center built in, will allow the men to

train better and function more in a job environment so when they get in the field they are as prepared as well as possible."

Although not needed in the one story building, the fire pole from the old station will be incorporated into the mezzanine for sentimental reasons.

To plan for the building, City Finance Director Cindy Anderson designed a 30-year budget for the department that attempted to account for every expense and included hiring two additional men that Runyon believes is needed badly.

These additional hires will help the department meet the goal of having a four-man crew at all times, Runyon said.

Funding for the $1.9 million project comes from $700,000 in Community Development Block Grants and Revolving Loan Funds. A $1.3 million bond will be borrowed and will be repaid by a fire fee.

Last month, the Ironton City Council approved an ordinance that will increase the fire safety fee three times within the next 30 years.

Currently, the fire fee costs citizens $4 a month per residence.

To account for increased costs for manpower, equipment and health care, the monthly fee will be increased by 75 cents in 2010, 85 cents in 2020 and $1.05 per month in 2030. Businesses will see an increase of 15 cents per 1,000 gallons in 2010 and 2020 and a 20-cent increase in 2030.

The city hosted an auction Saturday that included memorabilia from the station. Helmets, old fire gear, furniture, computers and a few vehicles were among the items up for auction.

Bricks from the station will be sold after the building comes down.

Construction bids were issued last month. All contractors accepted for the project were the lowest bidders and Cole & Russell Architects, Inc., of Cincinnati, recommended them.