When DeLand’s Fire Station 81 was built in 1973, it was a state-of-the-art home for the city’s firefighting corps.
A walk-through in 2019, however, shows the building at the corner of Florida and Howry avenues is reaching its limits.
“When it was built, it met the needs of the community then,” Fire Chief Todd Allen said.
DeLand has more than doubled in population since the station was constructed, and the Fire Department’s staff has grown.
A lot of spaces within the station are used for multiple purposes, and every nook and cranny is used for storage, Allen explained on a recent tour.
A combination classroom/lounge is lined with storage lockers for EMS equipment. Firefighters’ fitness equipment sits in non-air-conditioned space just feet from the parked ladder trucks.
“The fitness room is in the apparatus bay, and it should have its own space, climate-controlled,” Allen said. “Even for cancer prevention out here, there’s nothing to exhaust the diesel fumes. ... working out in an area where there’s a lot of diesel exhaust; it’s a known carcinogen that we’re trying to eliminate.”
DeLand is in the process of replacing Fire Station 81 with a new station at the northwest corner of South Clara and West Howry avenues, the site of the former Elks Lodge.
The city voted in 2018 to buy the 2.59-acre lodge site for $875,000, and the Elks moved to a new home at 614 S. Alabama Ave.
Design work on the replacement fire station — a 16,100-square-foot, two-story building — is ongoing. The new station is slated to cost $4.87 million. The plans also call for a 3,500-square-foot outbuilding for additional vehicle storage.
If all goes as planned, the new fire station could be ready for use by the beginning of 2021.
A new station can come none too soon for DeLand’s firefighters and EMS personnel.
While the additional space will be welcome, so will several features designed to minimize health risks.
In recent years, firefighters have learned more about how their work leads them to have a higher risk of cancer, chiefly from exposure to toxic particulate matter that can become embedded in a firefighter’s gear. That’s caused some practices to change, according to Division Chief Mike Vazquez, an 18-year veteran.
“We would wear all our gear to bed. We’d have it sitting right by our bed when we slept. Now, we don’t do that. We have two sets of gear, when we originally had one,” he said. “It’s a lot more meticulous. The cleaning process afterwards is very important.”
The new station will have designated decontamination rooms, where firefighters can remove their dirty gear after responding to an incident, preventing soot and other harmful matter from getting into the rest of the station.
Once the new station is up and running, the site of the current station will be turned into a parking lot, providing as many as 90 additional spaces.
Vazquez said given the growth of the city and the department, the time is right for a larger station.
“I think it’s the right time right now. We’re growing; we just added personnel,” he said. “We need a bigger station. We’re adding to the fleet, and we need a bigger place to put all that stuff.”