by Nathan Boddy
The City of Hamilton and the Hamilton Volunteer Fire Department opened the bay doors to the Fire Station on Wednesday, July 21st. The more than 100 year old building was the central topic, and more specifically, why the historic building can no longer serve as an efficient fire station.
Michael Dowling, of Dowling Architects in Helena, was present, and kicked off the gathering by letting people know that the new fire station has not yet been designed. “This (open house) is really an opportunity for you to see the current facility, and to see why there’s a dire need for a new station. I think once you get a tour of this place you’ll understand, without a doubt, that it’s an absolute necessity.” Dowling Architects has been chosen for the eventual design of the new station, which will be constructed on city-owned property at the corner of Skeels and Foxfield. While the new facility has not yet been designed, it is generally understood that it will incorporate the best available design to minimize cost and yet maximize utility for the firefighters as well as the community.
Mayor Dominic Farrenkopf says that the City is searching for funding from a variety of sources including a Community Development Block Grant, the Federal Cares Act, and possibly a bond or levy to pay for the new station. “At this point, we have no other option,” said Farrenkopf, “there’s no more time to wait. We are looking into all funding options.”
Chief Brad Mohn gave a brief history of the existing station, as well as the all-volunteer crew that responds to its calls. “It (the building) was constructed in 1907 to serve as the City Hall, Fire Department and Library.” At the time, the east side bay was enclosed by barn doors, because standing behind them was the crew of horses used to pull the firefighting equipment of the day. “That’s how old this building is,” says Mohn.
The building has undergone multiple changes over the decades, but the space has increasingly become a liability in several regards. As far as cost, the modern equipment used in firefighting simply does not fit inside the bays of the old station. Chief Mohn points out this problem by saying, “We’ve had to order a custom truck, to get it to fit in this space.” Indeed, even a casual observer can see the extremely limited space on all sides of the fire equipment. “We can’t buy an assembly line fire truck, because it won’t fit in here. We’ve exhausted everything we can do to continue to use this building.”
Mohn points out that it’s not just the utility of the building that causes problems, but also its location in a congested area between downtown and residential neighborhoods. “Were in a downtown corridor here. When I have 20 guys respond, there are private vehicles parked everywhere, one can’t even see onto 3rd Street to be able to come (safely) out onto State Street.” With a new building and location, says Mohn, these problems would be alleviated.
Greg Berry, a retired Battalion Chief from the San Francisco Bay Area, was present at the open house. Berry spoke at length with great praise for Chief Mohn and the Fire Department. “What this Department has saved you and I in tax dollars, for providing what I consider extremely proficient fire protection service, out of a structure that in some jurisdictions would not pass inspection, is phenomenal.” He added that, in his career, he has seen the death of five of his colleagues in Emergency Services, and that a lot of people don’t realize the sacrifice that firefighters make. “They deserve a safe building to work out of.”