March 21, 2013

Coon Rapids

A lone fire truck sits behind the fire station in Coon Rapids. There's no other place to put it.

Walking into the fire station, parts of which are more than 100 years old, it's obvious that parking the town's seven fire trucks and an ambulance is like packing sardines.

The ambulance bay, built in 1911, faces Main Street. It holds the town's ambulance, two fire trucks, a golf cart and some random equipment. The golf cart is backed in first. Then the ambulance.

The two fire trucks have a separate exit door, but the trucks must be parked at angles to fit.

The wall behind the two trucks is pocked with holes, where firefighters have bumped it over and over as the trucks go in and out. Firemen backing in the trucks sometimes strike the walls to get the trucks to face the exact angle to clear the garage doors as they close.

The ambulance crew now drives the newest ambulance in the county, but they had to move the cab from the old truck to the new because it was too big to fit inside the ambulance bay.

Coon Rapids city leaders have a plan to remedy the situation.

Voters approved a $1 million bond issue this month to equip, furnish and build a new fire station. The issue passed with 73 percent of the vote.

"It's long overdue," Coon Rapids Mayor Jeff Anthofer said about the new station. "It's something we need to do and I'm glad we're moving forward with it.

The new station will be located on the west side of town, just to the south of West Street and north of the railroad tracks - an important location to serve most of the town without being blocked by trains. The area is a field that the FFA has used in past years for crop test plots.

Coon Rapids ambulance service director Chris Goodwin hopes to break ground on the new building by the end of April and have it ready for use by the end of November.

The city has not awarded a bid to a contractor for the project. Bidding is tentatively scheduled to begin by the end of March.

The project offers a brighter future for Coon Rapids' ability to respond to fires and critical resident injuries.

Now, the same building in which the ambulance is parked has office space meant for the ambulance crew, but the area has been deemed unsafe. The walls are crumbling. So, the official ambulance office is located about a block down the street, right across from the American Legion building. It's not an ideal situation to have paramedics in a different building than the ambulance, Goodwin said.

At the current fire station, located directly behind the ambulance bay, there are four garage doors. The doors are just large enough for the trucks to fit if they are backed directly in.

There's maybe an inch between the front of the trucks and the garage doors once the trucks are parked. That leaves about 5 feet between the truck and the back wall. Firefighters have to dodge the ladders that hang back about another foot off the trucks.

Goodwin said it's not an easy task for the firefighters to get to their trucks in full gear.

The new fire station will have one large garage for all its trucks and the ambulance to fit. It will feature a five-door garage. Three doors will be used by the fire station, one by the ambulance and the fifth door will be left for room to grow.

Emergency personnel will be able to enter through two doors located on each corner of the south side of the building.

There will be plenty of room for the firefighters helmets, boots and gear in the back of the garage. There will be new offices for the fire department and the ambulance crew. There will be two new storage rooms, a kitchen, bathrooms and a conference room. There will be another room - without any immediate plans for use - for future growth.

"I wouldn't consider it extravagant or unnecessary," Goodwin said of the new fire station. "I think the community will really be happy."

To keep costs down, the ambulance crew and firefighters have volunteered their time to landscape around the building, help paint the interior and build cabinets.

As for financing the structure, Anthofer said there are three options. He said the city can use Local Option Sales Tax Money, revenue generation from TIF or do a debt service levy.

"We're going to wait and see what we need to borrow," Anthofer said.

He added that the city doesn't currently have a debt service levy.