Orrington Fire Chief Scott Stewart and Assistant Fire Chief Chad Bean were 14 years old when they first volunteered to learn how to douse flames in their hometown.
They worked side by side for more than 25 years in a 5,000-square-foot building on Johnson Mill Road that was built in the mid-1950s, looking forward to the day when they and their colleagues could work in a safer and more modern facility.
Last month, the department moved into that facility: the 11,400-square-foot Orrington Public Safety Building at the corner of Center and Tupper drives. Construction costs still are being tabulated but are on target to be slightly under the $2.85 million budget for the building, according to Stewart.
“When we started, we went on 100 calls a year,” the chief said Monday on a tour of the new station. “It’s grown steadily since we added ambulance service in 2004. Now, we average between 400 to 450 a year with between 75 and 80 percent of those ambulance calls.”
The population in town also has grown in that time, with 3,622 residents currently, up from 3,309 in 1990 and 1,216 in 1900, according to the town.
Stewart said the increase in calls is due, in part, to the town’s aging population rather than its growth.
Three years ago, it was clear the town desperately needed a new firehouse, according to a committee that was charged with assessing the need for a new building.
In addition to not meeting current building code standards, the cramped nature of the old building made it difficult to perform maintenance on modern-sized fire trucks. Firefighters’ gear also was stored in the same bay as the trucks, making it more difficult for them to get as quickly outfitted as they can in the new building. There was no ventilation or space between the space where firefighters washed their contaminated suits after fighting a blaze and their in-house workspace and living quarters, which increased their heightened risk for cancer due to frequent exposure to toxic chemicals.
“The design and construction of this facility address a lot of the firefighter safety concerns we had about the old building,” Stewart said. “We also have room to expand if the trucks get bigger in the future. We are not door handle to door handle here.”
Initially, residents could not agree on how big the new building should be or how much they were willing to pay for it. Last July, Orrington residents voted 380-to-75 to construct a $2.85 million building. That approval came after the project was scaled back due to voters’ December 2018 rejection of a $3.5 million proposal.
The project was designed so the public safety building looked like a farmhouse attached to a big, red barn where the fire trucks and ambulances are housed. The station includes an office for the Penobscot County sheriff’s deputies contracted by the town to provide law enforcement.
A special bay at the opposite end of the farmhouse from the barn will house the department’s first fire truck, a 1954 Ford, and other memorabilia, including the coat worn by Leslie E. Grover, who was chief from 1977 until 2001. Eventually, it will be a museum.
The building includes a separate gear storage room next to the truck bays. There is a separate room where gear can be washed and dried that is properly ventilated. Stewart has his own office, and firefighters have one they can share. There is a fully equipped kitchen, dining table and a television room with four reclining chairs.
The training room can accommodate 30 people, more than the 23 now in the department. Community groups and other organizations can also use it for large meetings, Stewart said.
There are three separate sleeping quarters in the new station where overnight, on-call firefighters can sleep. Previously, they’d have to come from their homes in the middle of the night to pick up their gear and the trucks.
“This station is more centrally located in town,” Stewart said. “We can be most places in town within five minutes. Having them sleep here cuts 15 to 20 minutes off a call.”
The other perk is a fitness center. Gold’s Gym in Bangor gave more than half a dozen workout machines to the department. A resident moving out of state donated a high-end treadmill.
At the end of the tour, Stewart stood in the big bay of his new facility.
“It’s great to be here,” the chief said.
An open house and barbeque for the public will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. on July 15. A dedication will be held at 6 p.m.