Akron’s newest fire stations are protecting more than the community.

“This station is designed to keep our firefighters safe,” Akron Fire Chief Clarence Tucker told the public at the new Fire Station No. 4. “Between 64 and 68% of all firefighters across the country develop some type of cancer in their lifetime.

"And that is a real tragedy,” said Tucker, who joined Mayor Dan Horrigan, Council President Margo Sommerville and other city leaders who cut two ribbons to dedicate two firehouses Thursday.

Fire Station No. 2 at the Market-Exchange intersection in Middlebury and No. 4 beside St. Mary School on West Thornton Street are the first to be replaced with an income tax passed in 2017. Next up is No. 12 on West Market Street in Wallhaven, which will be moved a half-mile east on what's now a wooded lot next to Swensons  restaurant. After that, Tucker would like to replace Highland Square's firehouse, which was built in 1918 with horse-drawn fire engines in mind.

"That one is very old, although it is not crumbling," Tucker said.

After these four firehouses, the city's next oldest, each from the mid-1950s, are on Brown Street in Firestone Park and Brittain Road in Goodyear Heights.

 

Healthy design

 

The new stations are honoring the past while incorporating best practices that keep residents and first responders safe.

Designed for containment, the garage is designated as "hot" because it gets all the hazardous materials picked up at fires, explained Deputy Akron Fire Chief Richard Vober. The "warm" area is a nearby rooms to store gear. Another room is filled with washing machines and an extractor used only for items exposed to carcinogens released in fires.

The "cold" area is inside, with easy-to-clean, nonporous ceramic tile that doesn't trap the cancer-causing soot and smoke. When returning from a blaze, crews can pedal stationary bicycles in wooden boxes that heat up like a sauna. The exertion and heat are meant to help firefighters perspire whatever seeps into their skin.

The Middlebury location, which has served the community since the late 1800s, could not support heavy fire engines before. Concrete sub-flooring below the garage was crumbling with chunks that fell onto the basement floor. Now, there's no basement, and no worry of a collapse.

The location features personal bunks, with individual storage and doors that lock, for every member of the station's three alternating shifts. Amenities include an outdoor balcony, stainless steel and spacious kitchen, a police community room, and comfy leather recliners arranged in a half-circle around a flat-screen television, with a carefully preserved wooden cabinet from the old station in the corner.

Beside the public entrance is the original "Fire Station No. 2" stonework and a community-cherished water fountain sculpture of a boy and girl beneath an umbrella. At Fire Station No. 4, a plaque originally dedicated in 1993 to the 15 Akron firefighters who've made the "ultimate sacrifice" is hard for any visitor to ignore.

Along with offices that put the district's 30 downtown administrators, including Chief Tucker, back in a fire station, the Thornton Street location will continue to house hazmat and dive crews deployed countywide, or across the nation, for search-and-rescue missions or in the event of a disaster.

It took about a year for the Fire Station 2 and 4 projects, which were privately managed respectively by G. Stephens Inc. and Thomarios. Each project is funded by the issuance of 20-year bonds, which will be repaid using a 0.25% income tax passed by Akron voters in 2017.

Rubber City Arches paid $659,170 for the old firehouse on Thornton Street, which is being demolished to make way for a McDonald's restaurant. That sale price will be put toward the estimated $9 million new Fire Station 4. Station No. 2 construction costs, which also have not been finalized, are projected at $5.6 million.

After thanking the City Council, community partners, contractors and staff, Mayor Horrigan turned to the public that paid for the new buildings.

"The most important group that we need to really thank today are the residents," he said. "They overwhelmingly voted for [the income tax increase] because we promised" to invest in public safety and roads.

"... And we kept that promise."

 

Reach Doug Livingston at dlivingston@thebeaconjournal.com or 330-996-3792.