BELVIDERE TOWNSHIP — Firefighters in this township tend to stand up for their meetings.
It’s not that they’re anxious to be somewhere else — it’s just that in the firehouse, there’s literally no room to sit down, except perhaps on the bumpers and running boards of the crammed-together firefighting vehicles. The current structure is simply too small for the department’s needs.
That’s about to change, however, thanks to a little creative thinking and a lot of hard work on the parts of the township board and firefighters themselves. If all goes according to plan, the department will move into new quarters just east of the current firehouse by early June.
For months, contractors, volunteers and firefighters have been putting in the hours converting a former church utility building into a new firehouse. The transformation must be seen to be believed.
Several large bays into what was formerly a gymnasium provide plenty of room for all the department’s vehicles, which in their current location must be parked end-to-end, sometimes resulting in delayed response times as firefighters move one vehicle to get to another. A large meeting room and kitchen provide additional usable room for firefighters.
The new facility, which cost the township about $125,000 to purchase and an additional $52,000 to renovate, will save taxpayers nearly a quarter million dollars over the cost of a new structure, according to Township Supervisor Larry Delamater.
“There was no grant money involved and we didn’t have to borrow for this,” Delamater said. “The money came just from the general fund.”
The idea for using the vacated church building for a new firehouse came to township board Trustee John Anderson as he was driving past the structure last year.
“Each (board members) was assigned duties and responsibilities,” Anderson said. “I was (assigned) the fire department. The first time I went to one of their meetings, I discovered in a hurry that they were short on space and needed more operating room.
“I happened to drive by (the new building) on my way home that night and the for sale sign just about jumped out into the middle of the road,” he said.
Anderson conferred with fellow board members and firefighters to make sure the building was big enough and well suited to become the township’s new firehouse, According to Township Clerk Sheila Smith, the building was the answer to the prayers of local officials.
“We had been brainstorming about this for a long time,” Smith said. “We were trying to decide what would be best for the fire department. We considered a new building, but then the department would be split between two buildings and they would have to be running between them. Also, it would have cost a lot more.”
Acquiring the structure was just the beginning of a long process. Countless volunteer hours have helped turn the building into a state-of-the-art fire firefighting headquarters, complete with (soon to be finished) an 8-inch well for filling tanker trucks, easily accessed racks for firefighter turnout gear and a spacious meeting room with large-screen television and storage cupboards.
Fire Chief Rick Rockafellow is anxious to see his department move to the new quarters, but that probably won’t be possible for a couple months, since the concrete approaches to the truck garage have yet to be poured and will require at least a month to cure before they’re ready for use. Once that happens, however, it won’t take long to transfer all the equipment and vehicles to the new location.
“This will be big enough for everything,” said Rockafellow. “We’ll be able to drive the trucks right in and out. Right now if we need the grass rig, we’ve got to pull the other rigs out of the way to get to it. (Once we move) we’ll be able to pull in and out and head easily in either direction.”
Rockafellow added that the new arrangement will likely cut response times to many fires.
According to Smith, feedback from township residents, who will benefit most from the new facility, has been uniformly positive.
“I haven’t heard one complaint,” Smith said. “I’ve only heard positive things from the people here in Belvidere. This was a good place to use the money.”