The first day of May has long held raucous connotations here in the Seattle area.
“May Day” is typically marked by, at best, demonstrators and activists marching en masse downtown and, at worst, vandalism and violent clashes between authorities and often less-than-peaceful protesters.
This year, however, on Bainbridge at least, May 1 will mark an important step toward ensuring the safety of island residents for decades to come, as the new Bainbridge Island Fire Department headquarters is set to reopen it’s freshly rebuilt doors for business.
The former, aged Station 21 building on Madison Avenue was closed in March last year as construction of the new and improved, approximately 27,000-square-foot facility began. The department’s administration relocated its offices from the Madison Avenue spot to Station 23 on Phelps Road temporarily at that time, an arrangement that BIFD Chief Hank Teran said has been “a challenge, but nothing we haven’t been able to accomplish.
“We’re excited to get into permanent facilities and to get moving, that’s for sure,” he added.
Intended to once again function as the headquarters of the organization, the new complex will also be department’s primary training area, and boast the capabilities necessary to act as island authorities’ combined emergency operations center during a large-scale disaster.
“We have a department operations center that we can use that’s different, just a level below the emergency operations center, so we as a department, when we have a giant windstorm, can operate effectively,” Teran said. “Before, believe it or not, we’d have chalk boards and white boards and try to find space in the walkways between office spaces. Now we actually have a dedicated room to do that in.”
The new facility was designed and built with a 50-year lifespan in mind, Teran said, and is intended to give the department room to grow and adjust manning levels as the island’s population increases in the years to come.
“We want this building to last 50 years,” Teran said. “Not just in the exterior, but also functionally, for the department to allow for the growth of the island, to allow for the growth of the department.”
The previous facility, which opened in 1978, didn’t quite make it that long. However, Teran said one senior BIFD member recalled being present at the grand opening of that station and that it seemed, at the time, more than luxurious.
“He said the comment at the time was, ‘We’ll never need this much space. Why is it being built like this?’” Teran laughed, then supplied the answer: “To anticipate.”
Designed by Mackenzie, an architecture firm, and built by FORMA Construction, the new facility is proceeding on time and on budget, Teran said during a walkthrough last week, and is expected to open on time as well.
“FORMA, the contractor, is doing an outstanding job,” the chief said. “You could almost move in [now], it’s so clean. And it’s so clean because they make sure. You have a clean work site, you have a more effective work site. They’ve just been Johnny-on-the-spot for everything.”
FORMA Construction’s winning bid for the job was $7.9 million.
Two other bids were considered: Blew’s Construction ($8.2 million) and Vet Industrial Inc. ($10.4 million). Bainbridge voters approved funding for the new station, as well as a rebuilt south end station and a revamped fire hall on Phelps Road, with their landslide “yes” vote for a $16 million bond in the 2015 special election.
BIFD project manager Charles Demming agreed that the facility was coming together even better than expected.
“[It’s] some of the best concrete work I’ve seen,” he said. “This is the best broom finish you’ll ever see. That is a work of art.”
In addition to adherence to the latest state building and safety requirements (something the old station did not have), the new facility also boasts, among its highlights, a community room intended for usage and gatherings of the public between fire board meetings; a dedicated training room; in-house sleeping quarters for a full shift’s worth of firefighters; both a “clean” and “dirty” maintenance area for gear and equipment that may have been exposed to toxins or carcinogens in the field; and a fitness room that can quickly be converted into additional equipment storage space if needed.
Every consideration was given to money-saving practices in the building’s design and construction, Teran said. To that end, as much equipment as could be reused from the old facility was.
“One of our intentions on trying to keep our costs down is to recycle everything we could out of our station,” he said. “We repurposed the fuel tank … our evacuation system that we use to evacuate the diesel exhaust, we recycled that, too. Everything, even furniture, everything that can recycle, we thought we’d do to keep the cost down.”
The station’s large generator was also saved and moved to the new facility.
Though most of the offices will be on the second floor of the new building, visitors coming through the main entrance will be greeted at the first-floor reception desk, Teran said. Additionally, there is a private exam room near the main entrance, better enabling crew members to treat the shocking number of walk-in emergencies the station receives.
“We still get walk-ins for heart attacks or strokes,” Teran said. “We would have to take care of the patient right there in the lobby of Station 21. Now we have the room.”
The chief said as many as “a couple” such incidents might occur in single day.
“It is not uncommon,” he said.
Residents are also known to regularly show up for wellness checks and to have their blood pressure tested.
“Before, we’d be right in the lobby, trying to take a blood pressure,” Teran said. “That’s one the upgrades we intentionally put into the building because I think in some ways it’s unique to us.”
Outside, however, one thing that will remain steadfastly the same at Station 21 is the location of the helicopter pad.
“We didn’t want to relocate it due to the fact that it’s where the pilots are used to, it’s where the community is used to that being,” Teran said. “We’re looking at some improvements to the helipad, including the ramp leading up to it. And we’re hoping to be able to refurbish the existing pad, too. Not changing it, making it any bigger or smaller, but making repairs after the construction so it’s good to go.”
A grand reopening event is in the works, the chief said, and the public is invited to attend a slated subsequent open house to come check out the new station.
“We want the public to come in and see their fire station,” Teran said. “It’s their fire station. And walk through and be able to see the staff and the apparatus here.”