FLOROSA — After nearly 20 years in the making, the Florosa Fire Control District is only weeks away from answering calls out of its new station on U.S. Highway 98.
The new single-story 7,763-square-foot station will be the third one to house Florosa’s Fire Department, which was chartered in 1966. Its first station was deemed uninhabitable after being slammed by hurricanes Erin and Opal in 1995.
Early stages of construction:Florosa replacing old fire station on U.S. 98 with much-needed new facility
Ground breaking for the new station:Florosa Fire Control District to mark start of new fire station
Firefighters then moved to a building at 1900 W. U.S. 98, but Florosa Fire Chief Mark Lee said they “quickly outgrew the capacity of that fire station.”
The land where the new station now sits at the northeast corner of U.S. 98 and Casa Loma Drive was purchased nearly 15 years ago. But Lee said it took years of planning to make the station a reality.
Florosa residents in August 2018 approved an increase in the district’s millage rate to help pay for the new firehouse. Construction began in March 2021, but supply chain issues caused by COVID-19 have resulted in many delays.
“It’s just been delay after delay, but it’s coming along and in the long run it’s going to be great,” Lee said. “The whole overall project has been 20 years in the making. And just in the planning of the new station, we’ve spent two to three years in the design and then working with an architect.”
Now, while standing inside the apparatus bay last week, Lee said it was satisfying to see the station nearly complete.
The bay doors still have to be installed and many other final touches are in order, but the station has come a long way from the construction site it was 10 months ago when the ground was still mostly covered with dirt.
The interior walls have been painted with careful thought put into the design. A thin red line that stretches across the walls in the vehicle bay represents support and solidarity in the fire service.
The district’s coverage area extends for about 7 miles along U.S. 98 from Hurlburt Field’s main gate west to the Santa Rosa County line.
With a new location only three quarters of a mile from the center of the district and enhanced technology throughout the building, Lee said the department will be “more capable” and ready for any type of emergency.
The station's apparatus bay is large enough for two fire engines, a ladder truck, an emergency vehicle and an older firetruck the department keeps in reserve.
“Sitting back on the back patio or back driveway, you can’t keep it fully equipped because the neighbor’s kids will walk off with everything. So it has very minimal equipment on it,” Lee said of the old truck. “But once it’s in here it’s a firetruck, so we’ll have the proper number of apparatus.”
The existing station is about 4,000 square feet. As a point of reference, Lee said the entire old station could fit inside the new apparatus bay.
The building also sits 22.5 feet above sea level and is designed to withstand winds of at least 155 mph, which is near sustained winds during a Category 5 hurricane.
“The facilities all around are just a much better place to be than that other metal building,” Lee said. “The other building is just a metal frame with sheet metal on the outside of it. I would not even consider being there for a Category 2 (hurricane).”
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A natural gas generator will allow operations to continue and for the facility to be used as an emergency command post in case a major storm hits the area.
With several additional square feet to work with, the space also was designed to help firefighters feel more at home. Those who stayed at the old station overnight have had to sleep on couches or inflatable mattresses.
East of the vehicle bay at the new station are nine rooms that can be used as sleeping quarters. There also are multiple bathrooms and showers, along with a day room and a kitchen that contains two ovens, a broiler and a griddle.
“Our existing station, everything’s in the same room,” Lee said. “It’s the training room. It’s the meeting room. It’s the board room. It’s everything. It’s where everybody hangs out and watches TV. So now we’ve delineated it out for rooms of purpose.”
An airlock with two doors stops any airflow from the apparatus bay to the living quarters — just one of many new safety features protecting firefighters from harmful chemicals. A decontamination room and a turnout gear storage room also help keep chemicals from entering the airways.
On the west side of the bay are administrative offices and a conference training room that can accommodate about 30 people. The training room also will be open for the public to hold meetings.
“That’s something new because I take calls all of the time for ‘Do I have a meeting room that somebody could use.’ Now we will,” Lee said. “They paid for it, so why not let them use it? They’re the ones that afforded us to do this. So to give it back to the community and let them use it will be a good thing.”
The total cost is expected to be a little less than $6.5 million by the time the station is complete near the end of July. Crews were installing emergency traffic lights on U.S. 98 last week that will change to red when firetrucks leave the station.
To Lee, the emergency lights, which will soon be noticed by drivers, are a signal of how far the project has come. Further delays are possible, but the Florosa Fire Control District plans to hold an open house once the station is officially complete.
“We’re getting close, but we’re not there yet,” he said. “This will be the third station that Florosa’s had, and hopefully this is the last one. The station is designed to be a 50-year service to the community.”