For the past year, Georgia residents have watched the progress on the new fire and rescue station from the outside as they drive by.
On Saturday, Feb. 12, the public had its first opportunity to look inside the new building during an open house.
“We’re going to have our own home, so to speak,” said Keith Baker, a 22-year volunteer firefighter and one of the town’s assistant fire chiefs.
The fire department shares a building with the highway department, which Baker said is “essentially a garage for trucks.” The building has a small office that also doubles as a storage area and three bays to park the town’s seven fire vehicles.
“They’re not touching, but get them all in and they’re close to it. You can walk between them but that’s about it,” he said.
As crowded as the fire station is now, Baker said the highway department seems even more cramped when all its trucks are in, so it will be nice to spread them out into the other garage when the fire department moves.
The new station has three private bathrooms with showers, a utility washing machine and a wall of gear racks in the garage; each firefighter will have his or her own storage space. The current building has no showers, no laundry facilities and no place to store the firefighters’ gear.
“We really had no way to clean up besides going home for a shower,” Baker said. “We used to always keep our fire gear in our vehicles; now we’ll be able to keep it [at the station]. You don’t take the chance of running home with contaminants
on your gear, bringing things to your family, so that’s huge.”
Georgia First Response rescue squad has an office in the new station and can store some gear on site, Baker said.
First Response doesn’t have its own facilities and holds meetings in the municipal offices or in the Georgia Plains Youth Center. First responders keep their medical bags in their cars, he said.
The fire department doesn’t have a meeting place either; firefighters have to move trucks outside to crowd around a table in the back, Baker said.
The new station has a large, bright community room with an attached kitchen. Soon it will have a projection screen, and the fire department can use the space for meetings and training sessions, he said.
In the future, the community room will be available for public use, though the specifics aren’t finalized yet, town administrator Carrie Johnson said.
Saturday’s open house was more like what a restaurant would call its “soft opening,” Baker said.
“It was basically to give townspeople a chance to see it before Town Meeting happens,” he said.
Baker’s wife, Amber, the town treasurer, said the municipal offices fielded a lot of calls about the station through the fall and winter, mostly from people hoping to have the opportunity to walk through, she said.
Johnson added, “We’re right on the main road, so it’s been visible.”
People are interested in seeing the project complete, she said, “as they should be – it’s their building as well.”
The building has held public attention from the beginning, ever since Jim Bryce, owner of Bryce Realty and the Arrowhead Industrial Park in Georgia, offered to build the new station for the town from the foundation up.
“The donation was huge for everybody,” Baker said. “It saved the taxpayers a lot of money.”
During a special vote on Jan. 25, 2010, Georgia taxpayers approved the new fire station and two other town renovation projects at a cost of $2.5 million.
Shortly after the vote passed, Bryce finalized his donation to the town, said Colin Conger, a Selectboard member who served as the chairperson for the fire station
Bryce donated “the building up,” meaning that his company provided the materials and labor for most of the structure.
The town took care of the sitework, including excavating the area, laying the parking lot and installing septic, drainage and sprinkler systems and water tanks.
Despite the generous donation, taxpayers have still put up a lot of money for this project,” Baker said. Other donations included materials and labor from Harrison Concrete, kitchen cabinets and countertops from local carpenter John Aubin and flags and flagpoles from Flags, Etc., a St. Albans business owned by Georgia residents, Conger said.
Baker said, “It’s been an eye-opener to me as far as the generosity coming to us from the town.”
The town doesn’t have a definitive figure on savings for taxpayers because only one of the three bonded projects is complete, Johnson said, though she estimates
it to be around $1 million.
On Saturday, the sentiment in the fire station was warm as townspeople got their first look at the building they helped bring to the town of Georgia, Conger said.
More than 100 visitors shared coffee, cookies and light snacks courtesy of Center
Market. Members of the Selectboard, fire department and construction crews were all present to answer questions, and every visitor had a chance to tour the entire building, Conger said.
Jim Cota attended the open house with his wife. Their son, Jamie, is another assistant chief, so they went to support him but also to see the building for themselves.
“We’ve always been very proud of what the fire department has given us,” Cota said. “I think finally we can be proud of the facility that we ask them to call home.”
Every room in the building is an upgrade for the volunteers, from the meeting spaces to the kitchen to the garage, Cota said.
“There is such dedication on part of the volunteers, and now their building reflects it. It really was a long time coming,” he said. “They have nicer kitchen counters than what we have, for goodness’ sake! It’s beautiful.”
Jim Bryce was not at the open house; he is famously humble, Baker, Conger and Johnson said.
Though Bryce has never made his motive for the donation public, Conger and Johnson both said they’ve heard that Bryce is gracious for all the town has given him and that he wanted to give back to the community.
Bryce declined an interview with this newspaper, but his administrative assistant
Paula Turner confirmed the town employees’ sentiments on behalf of her employer.
Nonetheless, Conger said the town is fortunate for Bryce’s donation and that the open house attendees seemed to recognize that.
“The bottom line is that everyone thought they were getting a great deal from the town of Georgia,” he said.
The town hopes to have an official opening of the new station this April.