Lebanon seeks support for new downtown fire station

An artist's rendering of the proposed fire station that would replace the existing station in downtown Lebanon. (Courtesy Lavallee|Brensinger Architects)

An artist's rendering of the proposed fire station that would replace the existing station in downtown Lebanon. (Courtesy Lavallee|Brensinger Architects) Courtesy Lavallee Brensinger Architects


Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 08-27-2023 2:05 AM

LEBANON — Concerned about the city’s aging and outmoded firehouse, Fire Chief Jim Wheatley is proposing replacing the Central Fire Station with a new facility that meets modern operating and safety standards.

A 2019 study of Lebanon’s public safety buildings conducted by Lavallee Brensinger Architects found that both city fire stations — including the West Lebanon station on Main Street — do not meet modern industry standards, including for protecting the health and safety of personnel.

Neither facility is Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible, and both facilities lack space to store and maintain firefighting equipment, according to the report.

Central Fire Station, built in 1954, is also showing signs of aging, including fractures in its foundation and interior walls, according to Wheatley. The building is also poorly insulated and its ventilation system is inadequate.

“It’s sad that we have to part ways with a historical building, but the health and safety of our personnel is very important to us,” Wheatley said in an interview.

Under the proposal, the existing fire station would be demolished and a new facility would be built at the same site. The new station would be ADA-accessible and meet modern facility standards for firefighting operations, safety and energy efficiency.

Wheatley will present his proposal to the City Council at a special meeting on Sept. 27.

The department plans to ask the council to authorize a bond to fund this project, according to Wheatley. A cost estimate is still being finalized and will be shared at the September meeting.

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The biggest building concern, Wheatley said, is the exposure by personnel to toxic fumes and contaminants. The offices and the firefighter living quarters are located on the second floor directly above the engine bay. While exhaust hoses capture most of the fumes emitted from running vehicles, leaked emissions still waft up through the flooring to where personnel are working and living.

The fire station houses up to 13 workers per day, including four on-duty firefighters, a paramedic and two nurses, three city fire inspectors, the fire chief, the assistant chief and an administrative assistant.

“We have a high risk of occupational hazard” due to airborne carcinogens in the workplace, Wheatley said.

In a preliminary design by Lavallee Brensinger, offices and meeting rooms would be moved to the first floor while living quarters would remain on the second floor but not located above the engine bay. The building would also have a lobby and elevators and ramps that would be ADA-accessible.

Importantly, the proposed facility would also have an isolated corridor where firefighters can safely decontaminate their equipment and clothing, as well as themselves. When personnel return from a fire call, carcinogenic materials on their person or belongings are brought into the fire station. While equipment and clothing are cleaned, the existing facility lacks a contained decontamination space to prevent harmful materials from being unintentionally dispersed to other areas of the station, such as the living quarters.

The proposed facility would also have taller bay doors to accommodate modern fire apparatus.

The existing bay doors are only 11 feet in height, which are too small to fit newer engines and trucks. Modern vehicles are typically taller to carry more equipment, such as for rescue operations.

“It requires us to order custom fire trucks (that fit our doorways), which cost more money,” Wheatley said.

In an online video linked to the city website, city firefighters drove the ladder truck through the bay opening to show only a couple of inches of space between the top of the opening and the vehicle.

The video includes a presentation by Wheatley, who does a walkthrough of the station to show some of the facility issues and discusses the architectural design of the proposed replacement.

The new building would be designed with insulated walls, solar panels and a central heating and air conditioning system. Wheatley said that living quarters and some offices are kept cool during the summer with window air-conditioners, though some rooms and offices do not have windows.

Heating is also difficult to control because there is not a central thermostat for the building, and some rooms have to use a baseboard heater.

Wheatley said they are conducting an energy study but do not have data to show the cost savings of the proposed building.

If the project is funded, the department would hope to begin construction in late 2024, with a targeted completion date of December 2025. Wheatley said the department is negotiating an agreement to lease a space near the existing station to house firefighting apparatus and personnel while the project is under construction. Wheatley declined to disclose further information at this time about that plan.

The department also hopes to build a new West Lebanon fire station in the future. In addition to having similar design issues as Central Fire Station, the West Lebanon facility is too small to house more on-duty firefighters and apparatus. Unlike the central station, the West Lebanon property is too small to expand the building. The city has proposed building a new West Lebanon fire station on recently acquired properties on Main Street, though many residents have said those parcels should be used for economic revitalization such as retail or restaurants. The City Council, which will decide the use of the properties, has asked the West Lebanon Revitalization Committee, an advisory group, to survey the committee’s interest and provide recommendations to the council in the fall.

The presentation of the Central Fire Station proposal will be on Wednesday, Sept. 27 at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

The fire department also posted a video about the project on the city website.

Patrick Adrian may be reached at padrian@vnews.com or at 603-727-3216.