JOHN DAY – Fire Chief Ron Smith joked last week that if he won the Powerball jackpot, he’d buy a new fire station for the city.
Turns out he didn’t win the lottery, but he did get some good news for the city’s volunteer fire department Saturday.
At the start of an open house at the fire hall, Art Andrews presented a $5,000 check from Malheur Lumber Co. to bolster the fund-raising effort toward a new fire station.
The donation, along with a steady stream of visitors who dropped by to tour the old fire station and have lunch, made the chief’s day.
Fire volunteers cooked up burgers and Indian tacos, made with fry bread prepared by Tina Shorts.
The volunteers also served up information about the old building and the plan to build a new fire station.
The city will put a $1.2 million bond measure to a vote in November, and is working to secure some $400,000 in grants toward the project. Volunteers also hope to raise $165,000 in donations for the effort.
Smith was thrilled with the donation from Malheur Lumber, and said contributions like this will help them keep the bond costs down.
He said he’s hearing positive response to the plans, and that people who see the 60-year-old structure quickly realize its limitations.
He also pledges that the new building will be functional but not fancy.
“It’s no Cadillac,” he said of the plans. “I don’t even like Cadillacs.”
Kevin Duvall, a volunteer firefighter, took a break from the grill to point out some of the current building’s defects.
“Check out that back corner,” he said. “Every time it rains, the water just comes through the walls and covers the floor. And there’s an electrical panel on that wall, right by where the water’s coming down.”
Another problem is that the fire engines fit too snugly inside the old bays, which were designed for much smaller engines in the past. Some jokingly call it a “fitness test” to squeeze in to access the cabs.
There’s not enough room to fully open the compartments on the trucks if firefighters need to load equipment or supplies.
Smith also noted the cracks in the back wall, where the mortar between some construction blocks has long been gone. When the lights are dimmed, daylight shines through to the inside.
John Day City Councilor Paul Smith (no relation) summed up his assessment: “Ron, this building’s shot.
“You don’t have proper accessibility to the equipment, and the building itself doesn’t lend itself to practical storage and use.”
The chief said the problems are not just cosmetic, but pose safety hazards. Firefighters could be injured, rushing to answer a call in the cramped quarters and on wet flooring. The engines, meanwhile, are at risk of damage from the tight parking jobs.
“The mirrors get ticked on a regular basis,” he noted. “And backing in is always a critical safety issue.”
The department currently has 14 firefighters, who train once a week. Smith said they currently have no place for the professional training they should have; ladder training is a particular need.
He also said some people have questioned why the plans include showers. He said that’s not a luxury, but a safety matter for firefighters returning from fires or highway accidents that may involve hazardous materials.
“There’s a lot of toxic material in a fire scene,” he noted.
Dave Traylor stopped by for a burger and offered an enthusiastic endorsement of the project.
“They need a new fire department,” said Traylor, who was a longtime volunteer, starting in 1967.
“They also need to change the sign – It should say John Day Volunteer Fire Department,” he added, noting that the current sign on the building lacks the word “volunteer.”Read more on bluemountaineagle.com.