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Bristol fire station comes online

BRISTOL — An effort of more than a decade paid off over the weekend of July 2 and 3, when members of the Bristol Fire Department began moving trucks, equipment and files into their new, roughly 11,000-square-foot West Street fire station.
Bristol Fire Chief Brett LaRose said the station, budgeted at $3.19 million — including 9 acres of land, most of which will be sold — is fully operational, if not yet fully organized. 
“We’re able to operate out of it and perform our duties as firefighters,” said LaRose. “But are we settled and moved in completely? Far from it. A lot of boxes. You know how moving goes.”
But those boxes are not preventing firefighters from doing their jobs. 
“We’re able to provide services to the community at full capacity. Our trucks are there. They’re operational. Our turnout gear is hanging in the lockers. Our radios, our communications gear, phones, everything is up,” LaRose said on Thursday. “And last night, we actually had our first business meeting there.”
As excited as LaRose and the department members were about being able — about a year after Bristol residents approved spending $3.19 million on the project — to move into the station on July 2 and 3, that weekend was also a sad one. 
On July 3, honorary assistant chief Darwin Kimball died after a brief illness. He had served the department since 1981. The station was set to host calling hours this past Friday, and department members helped plan a firefighter’s funeral for Saturday. And while the town celebrated Independence Day, black bunting hung from the station, and its flag flew at half-mast. 
That business meeting last week was also bittersweet, LaRose said.  
“When that bond vote passed on July 7, 2015, it was something else,” he said. “And last night when I got to address the department in the new fire station, plus at the same time acknowledging Darwin’s passing, it was just an emotional night for a lot of people.”
That meeting room is just one of the station’s many features that will offer greater efficiency, LaRose said, but the single greatest benefit is it is large enough to hold all the department’s functions and equipment. 
   A SMALL SIDE garage attached to the new Bristol firehouse has space for the department‘s antique equipment.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
The department has been working out of three buildings for decades, and for the past 18 months out of four, meeting monthly in the Bristol American Legion Post.  
“The No. 1 benefit is certainly being under one roof,” LaRose said. “I can’t even tell you how much easier it is to manage our fire department.”
No longer will there be running around to find needed equipment or information, or the need to make decisions and then send personnel to go after trucks and equipment in emergency situations. 
“We had trucks parked in multiple geographic locations, which was always a challenge responding to emergencies. Who is getting what? What type of call is it? Depending on what type of call you have to go get this truck,” LaRose said. “That was always a challenge.”
The new station also offers for the first time separate office spaces, a conference room to let department committees meet, showers to let firefighters remove grime — or worse — before they get home, and laundry facilities that LaRose said are actually a safety feature. 
“Everything about this building is efficient. It’s safe,” he said. “It provides for the safety of the firefighter and ultimately for the safety of the firefighter’s family, because now we can leave our dirty, carcinogen-covered turnout gear at the fire station. We have a washing extractor to clean it.”
Having everything centralized also means firefighters will be able to handle maintenance and other routine tasks more quickly and efficiently. 
“They give so much time, so I’m always thinking what can I do to lessen their time doing other things that don’t provide service to the community,” LaRose said. 
Even with the construction portion of the cost coming in, as of June 30, about $146,000 under budget, the station is not cheap. Town officials calculated the project would add about $80 per $100,000 of assessed value to property tax bills.
LaRose said the department will hold an open house, probably in the early fall, after those moving boxes have been emptied and recycled. But he hopes an open house won’t be the end of the department’s community interaction: He believes the department’s “transparency” helped it win support for the station, and said area residents will be welcome. 
“It’s a public facility. Taxpayers paid for this. I want families to stop by. I want young children to come in and take a look and play on the fire trucks,” LaRose said.
Above all, the town’s fire chief would like its residents to know how grateful the department is for their backing. 
 “The town just made a significant investment. I can’t stress that enough. At the same time, I can’t say thank you enough for what the taxpayers of Bristol did for their fire department,” LaRose said. “Without transparency and without their support, we wouldn’t be here today.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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