EDITOR’S NOTE: The location of the new central fire station was corrected in the article below at 3:05 p.m. Sept. 13, 2013.
CEDAR RAPIDS — A new era began at 10:18 a.m. Wednesday when a fire truck — with lights flashing and siren set to blast — lumbered through the open, 16-and-one-half-foot-tall doors at the $20.14 million Central Fire Station for the first time.
The new, 67,140-square-foot fire house at 713 First Ave. SE, built with federal disaster dollars and state I-JOBS money, is more than twice as big as the one ruined in the 2008 flood that it is replacing.
But what sets it apart from its predecessor, which was built of concrete and tucked out of the way on Third Street NW, is the new station’s prominent location and its design.
Building an icon
Fire Chief Mark English on Wednesday reached back in time when he said growing, successful cities in the mid-19th century made sure they had three “icons” they could be proud of, a city hall, police station and fire station.
“So it’s back in the forefront, and it’s back in the eye of the people,” English said of the new Central Fire Station at its visible location on busy First Avenue East and along Seventh Street SE, where people exit Interstate 380. “… It’s a strong symbol of the dedication of the city to the age-long problem of protecting against fire.”
English’s front-line firefighters, who will be answering fire, medical and rescue calls out of the new building, put it more simply.
“It’s absolutely fantastic,” said fire Capt. Rick Halleran.
Firefighter Amy Kunkle used the word “gorgeous.”
“I like the fact that they made it kind of a beacon for our city,” Kunkle said. “When people drive down First Avenue, they’re going to know ‘that’s the Cedar Rapids fire station.’ … I love that the apparatus bay is so open. We need to appear approachable because we’re here to serve.”
Fire Capt. Don Maas said the new station is much brighter and more airy than the former central station, which opened in 1985 at 222 Third St. NW before being shut down by the June 2008 flood.
He called the old central station “a dark and gloomy place” and a throwback to an earlier time when most of what firefighters did was fight fires. Today, firefighters rush to medical emergencies and traffic crashes and rescues in addition to fighting fires.
“Now we come for everything,” Maas said.
Firefighter Nathan Goodlove, who drives one of the department’s big ladder trucks, said he was “trying to wrap my head around” driving from the new station.
Brian Gibson, a battalion chief, said the fire station lets firefighters control traffic signals as they enter traffic, but he said fire crews will need to get used to the practice.
“On Wednesday, are we going to be good at it? No,” said Gibson. “But we’ll work on it until we figure it out.”
Any traffic disruptions should be short-lived, though Capt. Maas suspected that some stuck at a stoplight during rush hour might think, “The trucks are coming out again, and here I sit.”
The station’s eight towering front doors, which appear to be made of glass and wood but are glass and painted metal, take 6.9 seconds to fold in to let the trucks out. A conventional overhead door can take 30 second to lift, and have been known to get clipped as trucks hustle outside.
Chief English said the new Central Fire Station and its energy-efficient design is seeking to win the top platinum level of LEED certification — Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
The station’s architect, Al Buck, associate and architect at Solum Lang Architects, Cedar Rapids, said the building’s geothermal system and energy-efficient windows and lighting should perform 60 percent above a basic design that meets the building code minimum standards.
Each front-line shift firefighter has his or her own bedroom during the 24-hour shift, which replaces dormitory-style sleeping quarters in the former central station.
“It’s a little more privacy having our own space. But honestly, we don’t spend that much time in our room,” Kunkle said.
Architect Buck said the new fire house’s brick exterior, with arches above the garage doors, represents a “nod to history” and to the former century-old central fire station that is still standing on First Street SE and had housed the Science Station in recent years. The drama of the eight large garage doors was intended as well, he said.
“Putting myself in the shoes to a certain extent of school kids that are coming through on tours, I kind of wanted to give them a sense that the work firefighters do is somewhat larger than life,” Buck said. “I hope it conveys that. They’re brave, they do an important job, and they deserve respect for that.”