FLORENCE - On Saturday, Florence volunteer firefighters are going to open the doors to their new fire station to the public to celebrate their grand opening.
And then they’re going to hope the fire bell doesn’t ring.
The fire department tried this once before in September. Everything was just about set when the Kootenai Creek Fire blew up and the crews scrambled to go help their brethren in Stevensville.
Since that day, the folks who call Florence home have already been enjoying the new 15,000 square foot building set on the same site as the former station.
“People in this community are really, really proud of the new facility,” said Hugh Warford, the Florence Fire Department’s assistant chief. “So are we … we’re all very proud that we didn’t have to raise taxes to do it.”
The new building - with its large meeting room, expanded bays, deluxe kitchen and new offices - cost somewhere close to $800,000.
The down payment on the building was squirreled away over the years through a variety of means, including some long hours spent by volunteers fighting wildfires all across the countryside. Some of the money was raised through fees paid by developers of new subdivisions.
The district financed about $500,000 of the cost of construction, while managing to keep about $300,000 stashed away in an emergency fund.
“Just about everything this fire district buys has been paid off early,” Warford said. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see this loan be paid off early as well.”
Fire District Trustee Jim Shreve said planning for the new building started about 5ƒ years ago.
At that time, there was talk about building a second smaller station in the Hidden Valley area, but then folks took a good hard look at the old fire station, which was lacking in so many ways.
“We took a vote and decided to do a significant update to this building first,” Shreve said.
The district hired Lee Kerig as architect and the building was built less than a year later.
Since then the building has become a beehive of activity with firefighters training and the community taking advantage of the new digs to host all sorts of meetings and affairs.
An example: Next Tuesday at 7 p.m., the Sisters in the Raw will be sharing their secrets of preserving raw meats and vegetables for a healthier cuisine.
“The building is booked four nights a week, sometimes even five,” said Florence Fire Chief Charlie Lambson. “The public seems to be pretty happy that this is here for them to use.”
All they have to do is call Lambson and reserve a spot. The use of the building for any non-profits is free.
“We do accept donations though,” Warford said.
Having a modern facility also helps in recruiting volunteers for the department. Right now, the department has 41 volunteers who are called on to respond to an average of 300 calls a year.
“We’ve lost about a half dozen over the last year because of the economy,” Lambson said. “We always have room for new super eager volunteers.”
One of those new volunteers is Nick Monaco who is quite impressed with the new station.
“I’m just excited about just how warm and inviting this building is,” Monaco said.
“The old one was like a garage.”
Community members can come and see for themselves on Saturday, Dec. 12 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The station is located on Holloway Lane just west of the traffic light.
The open house will feature a quilt raffle, blood pressure checks, door prizes, emergency medical information, CPR information, tours, child seat safety instruction, and, of course, treats.
“We’ll also have the big screen TV tuned into the Griz game,” Lambson said. “I know I’m going to be spending some time around that.”
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Editor Perry Backus can be reached at 363-3300 or email@example.com.