This is the last week I will be showing pictures of the inside, unless something big happens. I will post more after the Dedication Ceremonies on June 16th. I will continue to post the west, south and east side panoramas.
Matthew Ciccocioppo/Sentinel Reporter An exterior view of the new firehouse, which will be in operation starting June 16.
The Vigilant Hose Fire Company and Shippensburg Area EMS will march down King Street On June 16 in full uniform, bringing their ambulances, fire trucks, tankers and other toys to the new firehouse on Walnut Bottom Road.
It’s the final step in a real life rags-to-riches story.
Vigilant’s current home was built in 1927, with additions made twice after that. Although Vigilant President Danny Byers couldn’t say whether they all shared the building at the same time or not, it has been the home of the Shippensburg Police Department, Borough Council and the Magisterial District Justice over the years.
“The building has been well used and it served its purpose, but we should have built a new building 10 years ago,” Byers said. “We are going to miss the pride and tradition that’s a part of this building.”
Having joined Vigilant in 1972 and being chief for nine years and president for the last 10 years, Byers has seen countless firefighters come and go and he knows better than most just how inadequate the fire house has been for quite some time.
As bad as the old firehouse is, Byers said, “EMS has got it a lot worse.”
Problems with the firehouse
A tour of the old building matched against a tour of the the new building really put the project and its necessity into perspective.
“It doesn’t even matter what we build,” Byers said. “It’s going to be better than what we’ve got.”
As the tour of the old building began, Byers said that among the many issues Vigilant faces with the building, safety is the No. 1 concern.
At the top of the list of safety issues is the lack of ventilation to deal with the diesel exhaust fumes the trucks kick into the building. The firehouse’s bunk room is just a wall away from the truck bay and as the exhaust rises, it climbs the fire pole and fills the conference room, kitchen and lounge area.
The exhaust poses a safety issue for the firefighters who stay in-house. Those living quarters are a another issue.
A building dedicated to helping put out fires does not have an automatic fire suppression system installed. Also, the building is not ADA certified, which means there are no accommodations for individuals with physical handicaps. There are no elevators either.
Another problem, which is obvious as soon as you walk in the building, is the utter lack of space. The fire trucks were custom made to fit into the super tight bays that only have an 8-foot wide door in the front. That means the drivers have to stop on King Street and back the huge trucks through a door that has only inches to spare on either side. The failed attempts can be seen as gouges and scrapes in the doors wooden frame.
At one point, a small addition was added to the back side of one bay to accommodate a ladder truck, but even with the addition, the ladder still stuck out the window.
There is also very little room for the gear, and virtually no storage.
Vigilant currently houses five live-in fire fighters. According to Byers, having trained firefighters that live in the building is a big advantage. The men and women who live there are the first responders to a call in the middle of the night and that often saves firefighters like Byers from getting out of bed and making the trip. The perk for the live-ins is that it’s free.
“We have consistently met the National Fire Department Response Times standard of being on the scene within eight minutes 90 percent of the time,” Byers said.
The room the firefighters sleep in features five sets of bunk beds that are probably less than 2 feet apart, so privacy isn’t an option.
There is a unisex bathroom that is well maintained, but significantly too small for five people to share. The same principal applies to the kitchen. Really the only thing that the live-ins have that isn’t too bad is a lounge that features a big flat panel television and several lounge chairs. The down side is that the lounge is only feet from the fire pole that lets poisonous diesel exhaust into the upstairs.
As Byers said, EMS does indeed have it worse.
For the last four years Company 73 has operated out of a retro-fitted store front at 235 East King Street where they respond to an average of 2,500 calls a year. Public Relations Officer Heather Franzoni said there are around 40 active personnel with 14-18 career employees.
“They have made due with a cheap home,” Byers said.
At the EMS building there are no garage bays to store their five ambulances, making it very difficult for them to do their jobs in a timely fashion during the winter months.
Contrary to Vigilant, no one actually lives in this building. However, the EMS operate on a shift system, similar to other 24-hour organizations, in which several people are in the building all night. The sleeping quarters is small, and instead, they sleep on beat up old lounge chairs in a living room like area.
“At night there are always at least four grown adults sleeping in a chair,” Franzoni said. “The chairs are in bad shape, but you learn how to sleep in them.”
There is one cramped little office with two computers that is shared by nine people trying to process reports. Storgae is also an issue.
Firehouse in progress
The anticipated date of completion for the new Vigilant/EMS building is May 1, with an official move-in date of June 16. Both companies will begin their march down King Street at 1 p.m. followed by an open house at 2 p.m.
In short, the building is a virtual palace compared to the shack they are leaving behind. It looks enormous from the outside and it’s rather big inside, but not excessive.
According to Byers, Vigilant spared no expense to make sure the building is as efficient as possible, saying that the up-front cost now is high, but in the long term it will pay for itself.
The building as a whole is LEED Silver certified, every light is controlled by a motion sensor, countless water saving steps were taking during construction and a massive water storage tank was installed under the building.
The 10,000-gallon storage tank will collect rain water that runs off the building to be used in the cleaning of the fire trucks.
Although there are a few common areas that will be shared between the two companies, EMS will get the majority of the top floor while Vigilant will have the ground floor.
With nowhere to park their ambulances now, it will be a massive improvement to have enough space all their apparatuses with room to grow.
“I don’t expect that we will really get any bigger, but we will be able to get all of our apparatuses in here, some of which are stored at different locations presently,” Franzoni said.
The new building is complete with several adequate bunk areas, an office for everyone, a common room and kitchen. There is plenty of storage space as well as adequate room to move around, a luxury that was in short supply in the old building.
The firehouse portion of the building is much the same, but there are a few things that are specific to its cause. For example, the eight dorm style rooms for live-ins and all personnel rooms are on the first floor and as close as possible to the truck bays. Since all the firefighters, equipment and apparatuses are on the same floor, there is no need for the classic fire pole.
However, Byers said there are a lot of memories associated with the old pole and he would like to see it in the new building’s museum. The museum is a fairly small room where vigilant will house memorabilia from the old firehouse such as the restored bell.
The five live-in fire fighters will go from sleeping in one room on bunk beds to having their very own dorm style room and a shared locker room. Although there are only five now, there are eight rooms and sooner or later Byers would like to see them filled.
“If we had no trouble finding people to live in the old building, this should be easy,” Byers said.
There are offices for all the board members, a fitness room, a conference room and a very nice kitchen. In the kitchen there is a double row of pantries that look somewhat like lockers. Byers said this way no one can steal other peoples food. Anyone who lived in a dorm or with roommates in general could appreciate that.
Quite a few upgrades when into the truck’s storage bays as well. Byers was proud to point out the new exhaust management system that each bay has. They went from having no system at all to high tech.
There is a large stainless steel pipe suspended from the ceiling that is connected to a hose which runs on a roller track. The end of the hose magnetically connects to the exhaust pipe of the fire truck, follows it on its track as the truck leaves the bay and releases when it gets to the door. No more hazardous gas issues for Vigilant.
The five bays are drive through, meaning there is a door on either end, eliminating the need to back the trucks into the building. There is a hot water heating system installed in the concrete of the bays to keep the snow back in the winter and to offer a little warmth in the large storage area.
Speaking of storage, there is more than enough to go around. In fact, there is an entire room dedicated to the storage of each firefighter’s equipment.
“No more milk crates,” Byers said.
The high tower that is visible from the outside of the building isn’t there for looks, although it does look kind of cool. Instead it serves a valuable function. When the firefighters come back from a job their hoses are waterlogged, heavy and in need of drying.
In the past they would simply lay the hoses where ever there was space, and as mentioned previously, there wasn’t exactly space to spare. Now there is a system in the tower that is dedicated to drying those stubborn hoses.
A firefighter at the bottom of a flight of stairs inside the tower can connect the hose to a cable attached to a winch. A firefighter at the top of the stairs hoists the hose up and connects it to a bracket system allowing the hose to hang vertically and dry.
The new building is long overdue and well deserved for the people that actively keep Shippensburg safe by often times risking their lives to save ours.
There is currently a Vigilant Hose Company fundraiser underway that they are referring to as, “buy a brick”.
For a $150 donation to Vigilant anyone can have their name or a saying they choose etched into a brick that will be installed in the building’s walk way just outside the museum. *Editor's Note: Due to a production error, the rest of the story wasn't published in Wednesday's Shippensburg Sentinel. The entire story will be published on Friday, May 4.