New fire station for $165,000Published 9:25am Monday, October 12, 2009
By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News
Instead of a $2 million fire station, Dowagiac accomplished a longtime goal for a fraction of that – $165,000.
“The best part is that there’s a payback to it,” Mayor Donald D. Lyons said at Saturday morning’s dedication of the new fire station on Wolf Street, behind the youth soccer fields in Northwest Park.
“We’re taking down the old (1962) fire station and we won’t have to spend money heating it and maintaining it. And, because we no longer have to spend money buying custom-built equipment, we can pay for this new facility in less than three years,” Lyons said.
“This facility is the work of a number of people with vision, people who put sweat equity into it and people who were persistent,” said Lyons, acknowledging senior council member Bob Schuur of Second Ward.
During Lyons’ 12 years as mayor, Schuur “has been advocating for a new fire department. One of the first things Bob said to me when I came on was we needed a new fire station, and I couldn’t help but agree with him. The old fire station was not adequate. But I also know a new fire station would cost upward of $2 million. I just knew we could not justify that within our budget, that no matter what the need was, we were going to have to work around the old facility.”
Last fall, a brainstorming session surfaced the notion of renovating the old Michigan Department of Transportation highway garage which, in the intervening years, had been a truss factory, into a fire station.
The mayor invited everyone who “swung a hammer or wielded a paintbrush” on the project to come forward so he could thank them individually.
“These are the men and women who made all this happen for our community,” Lyons said to applause.
“I just knew we’d have some sunshine today,” remarked City Manager Kevin Anderson. “It’s that kind of day. A facility like this is about public safety. You need equipment, you need buildings, but more than anything, you need people. It is people who make something like this happen. It’s about (Public Safety Director) Tom Atkinson sitting down with Dale (Hutchings, deputy chief), Mike (Mattix), Guy (Evans) and Jeff (Gollnick) and just asking the question, ‘What do we need to really serve this community? – not just now, but for 25 years in the future.’ It’s people like the mayor and City Council, who were willing to commit financial resources to make something like this happen. It’s about people like Christopher Bolt (city engineer and public services director), who said, ‘I can find a grant for the road and utilities’ that are going to take place this spring here. It’s about people like Jim Bradford, who said, ‘Yes, Kevin, I can make this come within budget.’ You know what? He did. It’s about people like Bob Nelson and Don Coy and all the volunteers and their spouses and other departments. People showing up here, day after day after day, and committing their time and talents and energies to put together a project like this. It’s about a guy like Matt Stack and our Grounds Department saying, ‘You know what, I’ve got a flagpole I can bring over here that we can get set up. We can do some landscaping.’ It’s about local businesses – roofers, electricians, heating and ventilation guys, plumbers and communication contractors – who have all come and shown tremendous pride in the work they’re doing here. It’s also about citizens and our neighboring communities, who donated things like couches and appliances, but more than anything gave time and energy to make a project like this happen.
“That’s what’s fun about days like today, when we pause for a moment, come together and celebrate public service and public safety and what can be done to improve the level of care for citizens of the community,” Anderson said.
Anderson singled out retired lieutenant Robert Nelson for special recognition.
“It’s not often that someone takes a project like this and commits 1,000 hours of their time to it,” Anderson praised Nelson. “It was an unbelievable effort and we would be remiss if we did not in some way recognize your commitment, not only to this department, but to this community.”
“I never want to see them show up at my house,” Anderson said, “but it’s great to have these guys around and good to know they’ll be there.”
Anderson introduced the family of Michael Staley, who has served three tours of duty in Iraq.
The 1999 Union High School graduate played football, baseball and wrestled for the Chieftains.
During his decade in the military, he has carried with him an American flag his wife, Beth, presented to fly over the fire station.
She was accompanied by their children, Makenna, 7, and Michael, 5.
The flag was raised by Beth’s maternal grandfather, Lt. James Dodd, who has been with the department for more than 37 years, and Capt. Guy Evans.
State Sen. Ron Jelinek, R-Three Oaks, and chairman of the Appropriations Committee, was represented by aide Robert Wagel, chairman of the Cass County Board of Commissioners.
State Rep. John Proos, R-St. Joseph, brought his daughter.
“Public service is folks coming together to make a better community,” Proos said. “To make things stronger, a little bit safer, a little bit quieter. Sharon and I and Ron try to do our best to serve all of you. The best we can do is to listen and to learn what’s going to make a community better. Sharon and I in the House of Representatives both serve in the Fire Caucus. We have the unique opportunity to be a firefighter for one day. In that training, you learn an awful lot. It’s not easy for you and one other individual to carry a 180-pound individual down the stairs on a stretcher and provide chest compressions.
“I thank the many members of the fire service who are retired and are here as supporters; the families who have been a part of the fire service; and the men and women who are part of the fire service today. Thank you all. As Sharon, Ron and myself serve you, make sure you keep us informed how best to do that job. Congratulations on this great community event.”
Dowagiac state Rep. Sharon Tyler, R-Niles, noted the dedication coincided with National Fire Prevention Week and described herself as an “honored mother” because her son who attends Southwestern Michigan College is undergoing fire training.
She presented a commemorative plaque signed by herself and Sen. Jelinek that “expressed appreciation for these dedicated public servants for their valuable contributions to the safety of others.”
Presenting the plaque to Deputy Chief Dale Hutchings, Tyler said the 155-year-old department was established in 1854 and today protects 4.5 square miles of the city and 7.5 square miles of rural area surrounding Dowagiac.
The new firehouse will house “our current and future heroes,” Tyler said. “Public servants like firefighters rarely receive the recognition they deserve. Our communities would not function without dedicated individuals willing to devote their careers to public service. Dowagiac Fire Department has worked diligently to help others. We extend our utmost gratitude for their service to the community.”
Representing U.S. Rep. Fred Upton was Andrea Grabemeyer Pries.
“This project we celebrate today represents what we all know and love about southwest Michigan,” Pries said. “It was a real partnership. It was everybody chipping in to make this happen. It was folks rolling up their sleeves and working together. We especially applaud the efforts of volunteers who made this a reality. They donated thousands of hours of labor because they care about Dowagiac. Fred has said many times that the work of volunteer firefighters may be the best value in government.
“Our dedicated volunteer firefighters spend hundreds of hours in training and always answer the call. With all the challenges we face, it is that spirit of community that make Dowagiac and southwest Michigan a great place to live, play and raise a family. This facility will serve our area for decades to come and be a source of pride for everyone. To Mayor Lyons, Manager Anderson and Chief Atkinson, congratulations on the dedication today and thank you for the vision and leadership it took to make all this happen.”
“My entire family went to Dowagiac High School,” added Pries, who is from Haslett and works in Upton’s St. Joseph office.
“Dedications are not an ending point,” Anderson said, “but one spot along the way. There’s still work to be done. There are still people to be served. But today represents a great, great time for us to pause, enjoy the moment and be thankful for the many gifts to the community and the many talents in the community. Let’s enjoy the fruits of our labor!” over 300 hot dogs, chips, lemonade, cookies and cake.
Father Rick Swanson of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church blessed the facility, praying “that those who work here will find it a safe haven, giving all the strength to do the work set before them. Bless those who make this fire department their home, that in their comings and goings they may see Your goodness, Your hope and Your care for them, in good times and in bad, in their challenges and celebrations, in their tears and in their laughter.”