Something good is coming from wildfires.
The Hellsgate Fire Department is currently building a new fire station in Tonto Village using money generated from sending local crews to fight wildland fires for the U.S. Forest Service.
The area urgently needs the new station, said Fire Chief Gary Hatch, who has worked years to secure a site and the $425,000 in funding.
The new, 5,000-square-foot building will replace a small, deteriorating station just a few blocks away, built in 1982 — mostly without permits.
Everything will change when crews complete the new station late next year. Although it will be no Taj Mahal, the metal building will feature five bays, a staff office, fitness room, living quarters and a training/community room. The new location will also allow for quicker emergency access to the Control Road, the main artery to nearby subdivisions in the district, Hatch said.
The existing station, a small, bright red building at 151 N. Matthews Lane, will not be missed.
Hatch said he has known since first walking into the fire station many years ago that it needed to go. It originally had no office space; just a small kitchen that workers discovered was filled with black mold.
The mold was cleared out and a new kitchen added along with storage and office room. Support beams now lift up the sagging roof to accommodate fire trucks. Even so, one of the two trucks must sit outside.
Hatch plans to keep the the original structure of the old station as a workshop.
Some have questioned whether the department really needs a new station, especially with its tight budget.
“The biggest issue we have is that the other station (the old one), the cost of fixing it is about half of what we have here (at the new station),” Hatch said.
As the Tonto Village Fire District grew, the district repeatedly added to the original building. To resolve roof drainage problems, the old station would have needed a whole new roof structure — including trusses. In addition, it would cost a lot to fix some of the building’s footings, stem walls and the septic system. The building also lacks central heating and cooling. Major renovations could possibly lead to other unforeseen additional costs to bring the property up to current building code standards.
Even then, the district would still have a small station without any room for expansion, Hatch said.
The new station, at the intersection of Fitch Lane and West Johnson Boulevard, will sit on two-thirds of an acre and provide room for all the department’s needs for years to come.
For all these reasons, the Hellsgate Fire District Board approved a $375,000 lease purchase agreement for a new station.
The district secured a 20-year loan, with an interest rate of 3.43 percent for the first 10 years.
The fire district also secured a refinance on the existing lease purchase and combined the two current apparatus leases at 2.93 percent, down from 4.66 percent.
The refinancing will reduce the annual apparatus payments by $10,200 over three years and help offset the building payment.
This will save the district $23,000 in interest on the apparatus lease over the life of the agreement. Annual payments for the apparatus and building will come from the capital reserve funds built by response to wildland fires.
In the past, the station served as the main station for the Tonto Village Fire District before the merger with the Diamond Star Fire District in 2008, forming the Hellsgate Fire District.
The Tonto Village station currently serves 1,100 residents. Eight volunteers staff the station, with at least one on duty at all times. The station responds to roughly two to three fires a year.
To cut down on construction costs, several firefighters, including Hatch, are doing much of the work on the new station.
Volunteers cleared the site, hauled in dirt to build up the pad and will likely put up the building. They will pay to have the concrete pad laid and an exhaust system installed along with a septic system and sprinklers.