Fire station taking shape

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By Katy Korkos

The shiny new fire station in White Rock has been the talk of the town, and the building is now nearly finished.

"I've been really happy to work on this project," said Project Manager Victor Martinez, who has worked for the county for 16 years. "I'm really proud of it."

The new fire station is designed to house as many as 16 firefighters and four officers on each shift. Firefighters rooms are small and efficient, each containing a built-in bunk, a desk and three lockers, one for each shift. Officers' quarters are somewhat larger, with a small office space, bedroom and bathroom. Firefighter bunks are minimal, but they are an improvement over the current facility because they have doors rather than curtains on the rooms.

"Each bunk room has a window for natural light, which should result in energy savings for the building," Martinez said.

The station includes a conference/training room able to accommodate 50 people in the front, just off the lobby, and both the lobby and conference room can be accessible to the public when the rest of the building is secured.

Additionally, there are five large apparatus bays in the garage part of the building that open from both ends, so trucks can drive straight through.

"We've needed this facility for a long time," said Fire Chief Douglas (Mac) MacDonald. "It was determined in the '90s that we needed to replace (fire stations) number 1, number 3 and number 5. When the county took ownership of the fire department in 1997, the White Rock fire station was too small, it was inadequate and doesn't meet any of our codes. We were very prudent in our requests for space in the new station."

He said the new fire station "will finally allow us to bring all of our equipment under cover," adding that several pieces of equipment now sit outside, exposed to the elements, in all kinds of weather.

"The new station will also create an environment for our firefighters that will promote individual study," MacDonald said, referring to the library and conference room.

The building will also have its own laundry, with special equipment for fire retardant clothing. The all stainless-steel kitchen facilities were described by Martinez as "high-end residential."

There are separate pantries for each of the three shifts of firefighters, who each do their own meal planning.

"There are currently three fire engine personnel and two medic personnel on each shift in White Rock," Chief MacDonald said.

Finishes throughout the building appear to be more functional than luxurious, with concrete floors throughout the building with the exception of the exercise room, which has a rubber workout floor, and the conference room which is carpeted. Low water-use landscaping with a drip-watering system has been installed, and the Art in Public Places board has chosen a sculpture for the front of the building, to be paid for with money from the Art in Public Places fund.

The building itself will be financed through a one-eighth cent fire protection excise tax, which was approved by voters in November 2006, as well as a Cerro Grande Fund Transfer. The county's fire protection excise tax went into effect in July 2007.

"If the one-eighth cent had been in place last fiscal year, it would have generated $1.9 million," said Joseph d'Anna, general accounting manager for the county.

He said the total budget for the project is $11.6 million.

The county's fire department provides service to Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the contract for fire protection services is currently under negotiation.

"We're meeting regularly with the Department of Energy," said County Administrator Max Baker.

MacDonald said that the public will be able to tour the facility at an open house, after all of the final punch-list items have been completed. The fire department will stage a creative twist on the traditional ribbon-cutting event when the building is opened to the public in about six weeks.

"We're holding a hose-uncoupling celebration in mid-November," MacDonald said.