Firefighters at Central Valley Fire District’s Station 1 have a new home, and the public is invited to celebrate its grand opening and tour the facility on Saturday.
After three years of planning and construction, the district’s new headquarters on Wings Way near the airport is operational. The $8 million station, which lacks nothing in form or function aside from a fire pole, replaces the Fire District’s former home on Main Street – a 63-year-old building erected by volunteers before there were strict codes. The 1956 structure was not only cramped, dangerous, and obsolete, but literally crumbling, according to Fire Chief Ron Lindroth.
Less than 48 hours after Saturday’s 4.0 earthquake that rattled nearby Manhattan, Lindroth noted that in addition to the old station being “antiquated and not meeting our needs,” that old structure likely “would have collapsed” in a more sizable quake.
The new station, by contrast, was designed not only to withstand a seismic event, but to serve for the next 80 to 100 years as a bulwark and central command center should an earthquake or other disaster such as a flood, wildfire, pandemic or railroad hazardous materials mishap create an emergency in the district’s 200-square mile service area.
“The community is providing a fabulous facility through their support so that we can turn around and support them,” Lindroth said.
The new 20,000-square foot station boasts not only the first decontamination facility of its kind in the nation and numerous amenities designed to enable the quickest possible emergency response, but also comfortable accommodations for firefighters who will spend a third of their lives there.
“This particular facility was designed with several points in mind,” Lindroth said.
The “first and foremost” priority was enabling quick emergency response. The
station’s location on the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport campus allows personnel to respond quickly via major arterial to emergencies to the north, south, east or west of the station. Lindroth explained that passing trains, school zones and other impediments created access challenges at the old station, but the new site offers four unobstructed accesses to Belgrade, as well as an easy passage under the railroad tracks and close proximity to Interstate 90.
Numerous other amenities have been built into the new station to speed response time. The heavy, metal-frame doors, behind which the station’s emergency vehicles sit ready to roll, open in merely four seconds – much faster than the 10 to 15 seconds required to open an overhead door.
“This design is to get firefighters out to the public quickly,” Lindroth said. “Wherever we can save seconds , we do.”
A modern alerting system will transmit information about developing incidents directly to the station without relying on multiple radio communications from the dispatch center. Scheduled to come online next month, it will save critical time, Lindroth said. An electronic voice will announce bulletins, that simultaneously will be flashed to television screens in the building, along with a map and written details. Once implemented, Lindroth said officials anticipate that the system will save up to a minute of dispatch time.
Also prioritized during design was concern for the emergency personnel – not just their comfort, but also their safety.
“If you’re going to spend as much of your life here as they do, we might as well have a good environment,” Lindroth said.
Cancer is a known occupational hazard of firefighting, he added, so the Central Valley Department followed through on an Australian concept of using an unattached building to decontaminate vehicles, equipment and even the firefighters themselves after an event.
Calling the decontamination facility “more of a glorified car wash” than anything else, Lindroth pointed out the large bay where vehicles can be scrubbed before they are driven back into the main station. Water is captured through a drain to a holding tank, where officials can choose whether to release it to the city of Belgrade sewer or have it pumped out if it is believed that it contains hazardous chemicals. The building also houses commercial washers and sinks for cleaning uniforms and other personal equipment, as well as steam showers designed to open firefighters’ pores so that contaminants can be expelled from the bodies and washed away.
Even after being cleaned, it’s believed that uniforms probably continue to off-gas harmful fumes, so firefighters will store them in a negative pressure room in the main station building to prevent any invisible contaminants from polluting the building.
The decontamination facility is so unique that a leading U.S. fire services insurance agency will visit Belgrade to do a documentary about it in September, Lindroth said.
Central Valley’s professional firefighters work one 24-hour shift every three days, meaning that they spend a third of their lives at work. Currently housing an on-duty crew of four with the ability to expand to eight, the new station has eight three-person bedrooms and four independent bathrooms. The set-up allows for shift changes without the need to constantly change sheets, and also cuts down the potential for cross-contamination during cold and flu season, Lindroth said.
The on-duty firefighters cook their own meals in a large commercial kitchen and relax in the adjacent lounge designed to be the “heart of downtime.” A volunteer currently is putting the finishing touches on a large, farm-style table that will seat 10 in the area’s dining area.
“We designed the facility to encourage camaraderie,” Lindroth said. “Teamwork is important.”
Other features include a gym for the firefighters, a private examination room where citizens can be evaluated if they come into the station when they aren’t feeling well, and a large room that most often will be used as a virtual training facility, but has the potential to be converted instantly into a command center in the event of a large-scale emergency.
The new station was funded by a $5 million, 15-year mill levy passed by voters in 2018. That money, combined with $3 million in savings in the Fire District’s coffers, paid for what was originally expected to be a $12 million structure. Lindroth said a third of the facility’s price was shaved off through good design engineering, local sourcing of materials, and the Gallatin Airport Board’s willingness to give the Fire District an 80-year lease on the property so that land didn’t have to be purchased.
“The Fire District has worked extremely hard at being fiscally conservative,” Lindroth said.
The result is a station where little had to be sacrificed, though Lindroth said he did have to give up one thing.
“Something I really wanted was a fire pole, but going to a second story required a lot more structural materials and engineering,” so it didn’t make the cut. Instead, the area where firefighters will do their desk work and write reports is located just steps away from the apparatus bay, so no time will be wasted as they scramble to their vehicles to respond to emergencies.
Fire Station 1 is one of seven in the Central Valley Fire District, which serves the area roughly bounded by Four Corners, Pass Creek, the Bridger Mountains and the Gallatin River. Three of the stations, including the new station, are staffed by career firefighters, and four are staffed by volunteers.
The new station, located at 215 Wings Way in Belgrade, will be dedicated at 10 a.m. this Saturday, July 20. Tours will be offered between 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The public is asked to park along Wings Way.