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From the outside, the new Fire Station 1 in Toano recalls an institution of the past – the façade is considered a replica of Toano High School, which once stood only a few yards away on Forge Road.
But on the inside, the James City-Bruton Volunteer Fire Department’s new digs, which will feature a built-in training academy, are nothing short of state-of-the-art.
Fire Chief David Nice concedes there’s nostalgia for the old station, which was built by the hands of volunteers in 1966. But, he said, the potential of the new building compensates for those nostalgic feelings.
“We’re just so grateful and thankful for this new building that it kind of mitigates that,” Nice said.
Fire apparatus will move into the new station this week, said Phillip Murdock, president of the volunteer department.
Volunteers will respond to emergencies from the rear of the building for about 60 days, Murdock said. During that time, the old station will be torn down and the high school façade will come into full view.
The fire department began planning the new station five or six years ago, as its existing 12,000-square-foot facility was “no longer serving” their needs for expanding membership, Nice said.
James City County partnered with the department to make the new station possible. In May 2012, the Board of Supervisors allocated $6.3 million for the project.
Construction began in September 2014 and department members began moving in lockers, beds and cabinets last week.
The new station, which is located directly behind the old station, is “just better on every level,” Murdock said.
One of the first things Murdock pointed out on a tour of the new station is a series of rings located on each side of the main truck bay that can be used to simulate the high-angle rescues that sometimes must be made in high-rise buildings, such as hotels and apartment complexes.
“Instead of having to go somewhere to do that (type of rescue training), we wanted to build in-house,” Murdock said, adding that previously members traveled to Newport News for the training.
There are imitation standpipes in the staircase of the new station so members can practice hooking up their hoses, and there are railings that can be removed to perform repelling exercises.
Although the Howard Johnson Inn in Lightfoot might be the high-rise building closest to Toano, Murdock said his department’s volunteers respond to every structure fire in James City County. He said the station responds to 1,500 to 1,700 calls annually in its 110-square-mile service area, which runs from the York River to the Chickahominy River.
“You still have to be prepared to respond and know how to work in those environments,” Murdock said.
The new fire station has double the square footage as the old building, and it adds a fifth bay for fire apparatus. But the increase in space primarily comes on the second floor, which consists of sleeping quarters for the volunteer firefighters.
There are separate sleeping quarters for men and women that will accommodate up to 18 volunteers every night – a significant improvement over the 10 bunks at the old station.
With the added bunks there will be more volunteers ready at the station to respond to nighttime emergencies, Nice said.
“Having additional members will significantly improve our response capabilities,” he said.
Department members also will benefit from a day room where they can relax, a large table at which they can share meals and a quiet room where they can study for new certifications.
The public will benefit from a community room and a commercial kitchen, where food for the department’s annual fish fry will be prepared.
Loretta Garrett, an associate member of the department, said the new station is long overdue. It has the potential to be a true community space like the old station, which hosted “everything from weddings to funerals,” she said.
“Just because we have a state-of-the-art building, that won’t change,” Garrett said, adding that Toano residents “will be in awe when they come in.”
The James City-Bruton Volunteer Fire Department is supported by four career firefighters and more than 60 active volunteers. Departments supported by volunteers are a “dying breed” in the Hampton Roads area, Murdock said. But, he added, James City-Bruton is one of the best combination departments on the Peninsula, even boasting a waiting list for volunteers.
The new fire station will only help the department’s recruitment and retention efforts, Nice said, adding, “Who wouldn’t want to be part of a fire department that has a station like this?”
James City County recognizes the value of the fire department’s service, as its volunteer manpower saves the county between $1.5 million and $2 million annually, Nice said.
The new station, he said, “is a simple way to give back to 60 people who are always giving back their time and energy to this community.”
Nice said the department plans to host a grand opening for the new fire station around the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in which more than 300 New York City firefighters died.