The new Columbus Fire and Rescue Fire Station No. 4 is a straight shot down Airline Road, but the road to its creation was a long, sometimes bumpy one, marked by detours and abrupt stops.
On Wednesday, the fire department had something to celebrate, hosting a ribbon-cutting at the sparkling new station six years after its initial plans were drawn.
“We’re very proud,” Fire Chief Martin Andrews told a gathering of about 50 in front of the station. “It’s been a lot of hard work, a lot of dedication and a lot of criticism, but through it all we prevailed and got it done,” he said. “Many days, we were downhearted … but just kept on pushing.”
With those difficulties behind them, fire department and city officials were more than eager to show off the new station, conducting tours of the facilities for the public after the ribbon-cutting.
The $2.5 million station includes 14,704 square feet for living quarters, offices, storage and other amenities, along with a 2,604 square-foot double-bay that can accommodate the larger fire trucks that could no longer fit in the former, 60-year-old Fire Station No. 4, located just down Airline Road at McCrary Road.
One of the most appealing features of the new station is a change of the old barracks-style sleeping quarters. Instead, the new station features 18 individual sleeping quarters.
“There are several things I like about the station,” said CFR engineer Josh Westbrook. “The (sleeping) quarters are much better. It gives you a little privacy.”
The station includes a well-equipped fitness center and spacious kitchen, as well as a new training room and offices that will now allow the CFR administration to work together in the same building. Previously, administrators were divided among three locations.
For all those upgrades, Andrews said the most important aspect of the new station will be on its ability to serve the community.
“Community safety is the most important thing we do,” Andrews said. “When we annexed down Highway 69, the state rating bureau told us we needed to have a station that was closer to our response area so our response time would be better. We will have quicker responses to the extended areas of the city.”
Andrews said having the administration under one roof will also aid the department.
“Before now, we were all spread out in three different buildings,” Andrews said. “Now that we have everybody here together, we can communicate better and be more efficient.”
The city first began planning for the new fire department in late 2014 and had developed its initial design for the station in 2015. The project broke ground in 2016.
“When we initially started, the plans we had drawn were super super expensive,” Andrews said.
“It wasn’t Cadillac expensive, it was Mercedes or Lamborghini. When we found out how much it was going to cost, we had to go back to the drawing board.”
Andrews credited private engineer Ralph McLain for re-drafting the plans and making big cuts in the cost of the station’s mechanical and electrical system for bringing the total down to a manageable level.
“I really can’t thank him enough,” Andrews said. “He did the work at no cost to the city and probably saved us anywhere from $1 million to $1.5 million.”
Even with those savings, work on the building slowed, then stopped in 2018 when the city was hit with a financial crisis.
“We were two or three years into the project when we started running into money problems,” Andrews said. “So we reached out to J5 (the city’s contracted project management firm) and told them we needed help. Darrel Winters and Greg Virgil came in from J5 and worked hand-in-hand with us in making sure we got everything taken care of and back on track.”
Mayor Robert Smith said the opening of the station is a significant milestone.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Smith said. “My hat is off on everyone who played a role in bringing it to fruition. It’s a special day in the life of our city.”