Ind. FD gets new station, rescue boats

The Clinton Fire Department hopes to train six more firefighters to perform swift-water rescues with the new equipment

Lisa Trigg
The Tribune-Star, Terre Haute, Ind.

CLINTON, Ind. — New boats for water rescues have arrived at the city of Clinton's new fire station, capping off a long-planned building project.

Fire Chief Chris Strohm said the department now hopes to train six more firefighters to be swift-water techs for a total of 12 firefighters who can handle rescues on the Wabash River, area creeks and lakes.

"These boats are specifically built for rescue purposes, whereas the old boat we were using was a fishing boat we had adapted," Strohm said.

Purchased with $50,000 from the Vermillion County public safety tax, the new boats are stacked on a trailer that sits inside the new fire station.

The department got their first boat about 10 years ago, and Strohm said he wondered then how the fire department had gotten by without it. Being a city on the river, water rescues are not uncommon, so Clinton had relied on conservation officers and the sheriff's department for water responses.

The original boat will be retired as the new equipment goes into service.

Any time firefighters do a water rescue, Strohm said, they are supposed to have two boats available, with the second craft on standby.

New station

The improvement to the department's water rescue capabilities is like icing on the cake for Strohm, who has watched this year as a new fire station took shape after 10 years of planning.

The former fire station in the city's municipal complex was about 3,000 square feet. With the new 12,000 square feet facility, all equipment is under one roof, and a new exhaust removal system keeps the interior environment healthy for the fire staff.

Strohm, who has been fire chief since 2006, said planning for a newer station started in 2009. At that time, the city hoped to use a federal program to fund the construction. When that funding source dried up, however, the dream of a new station didn't die.

"We've learned quite a bit over the last 10 or 12 years about a lot of the things we've been doing for years that are probably not the best way to prevent cancer for firefighters," Strohm said. "So we've tried to put a lot of thought into trying to make this a clean building not only to work in, but for guys to go home from."

Built at a cost of $1.2 million, the new station includes a separately ventilated area for fire gear . It has an oxygen and EMS supply room, and a decontamination area where firefighters can strip off their smoky gear and shower. A sauna is also planned so firefighters can sweat out the toxins they absorb at a fire scene.

The department has about 40 personnel, some trained in swift-water rescue, some volunteers, most trained as first responders or emergency medical technicians, and all trained as firefighters.

Some of the project cost was covered by donations, such as the exhaust system and the workout equipment.

About $200,000 has been spent on equipment and furnishings including the kitchen, furniture and TV monitors, the chief said.

A public safety tax gave the city a funding stream that hadn't been available before, making the building project possible.

In addition to housing two fire engines, a ladder truck and a support truck, the building has a training room, offices, public restrooms, bunk rooms and several historic photos dating back to the early years of the department.

The front entry of the new building occupies the same space that housed the city's first horse and wagon apparatus used for firefighting. That old two-story building is long gone as the fire station moved in 1972 to the city's municipal building, which houses city services and police.

In 2009, Chief Strohm said, the city purchased a corner lot about two blocks from the current municipal building in hopes of moving the fire station. But the former Clinton High School building occupied the other half of the lot. That building, which was later used as a middle school, was vacant and going through foreclosure.

The city worked with the bank and area government agencies to acquire the school and have it declared a blighted property. The school was demolished in 2013, even though that move wasn't always popular among the public, said Strohm, who had attended middle school in the former high school.

But then the project stalled again due to funding until the public safety money became available.

Quite the upgrade

Groundbreaking was in February, and then the coronavirus pandemic struck.

While the city and contractors for the project were cautious about the health of the workers, the project moved ahead, though sometimes at a slower pace.

"It's quite the upgrade," Strohm said looking around the building.

On Nov. 21, 2020, the department ran its first shift out of its new location.

The station always has a least one person on duty.

The new space includes bunk rooms that can sleep up to 12 people.

But it also has remnants of the past, including the original pool table purchased for the first fire station. That pool table was moved in pieces and is waiting to be restored.

The top half of the fire pole from the two-story building has also been placed in the front entry. There's no longer a need to slide down the pole to reach street level, but the brass cage recalls the history of the department.

"We have actually come back to where we started," Strohm said of the station's location.

The city has kept old records of the fire service, and Strohm found some dating back to 1904 when the city's fire department was established. Prior to that, neighborhood groups had their own fire brigades.

In a newspaper article from 1907, Strohm found a report on the purchase of the new fire station. Then a few months later, the city approved purchase of the fire pole for $75 and the pool table for $100. While those dollars were approved, Strohm said, he laughed at the political irony in the article about an hour-long debate over a five-cent increase in the price of horse feed.

"Somebody's always argued nickels instead of dollars," he said.

As of midday Dec. 31, the department had marked 665 runs for 2020. That's about the same as 2019, Strohm said, but the first half of the year was slow because of the pandemic and people hesitating to go to the hospital. About 80 to 85 percent of the department's runs are medical, he explained.

If the pandemic had not happened, the department would probably had handled more than 800 runs. During the last six months, the crews handle about three medical runs per shifts. About half of those calls are COVID-19 related, he said.

Unfortunately, the pandemic also means no public open house to show off the new station, for now. The firefighter's dance in February also probably will not happen, he said, and that means a fundraiser loss of about $70,000 for the volunteer unit.

But perhaps a block party later in the year will allow the public to see the new station.

"They've heard about it for a decade, and now that it's here, all they can do is drive by it," he said.


(c)2021 The Tribune-Star (Terre Haute, Ind.)


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