Bemidji Fire Department Struggling with Cramped Quarters, Aging Facility
Aging building conditions and cramped quarters at the Bemidji’s main fire station are causing added challenges for the city’s fire department.
Those at the fire station are looking to show these conditions to help the public understand how a building can affect the people there. No office space, makeshift sleeping areas and a bathroom that hasn’t been updated since the ’70s are just a few of the issues one can see if they visit the Bemidji fire station.
From the entrance, which is a struggle for those with impaired mobility to cross, to the chief deputy’s office, which is a shared training space, the challenges for the station continue to add up. Lack of space is the largest item on the list, as the sleeping area consists of curtains and partitions. This lack of personal space can affect a firefighter’s mental health, as they do not have a proper area to decompress.
The aging infrastructure adds another layer to the facility’s challenges. Some windows are residential, meaning they are not fit for public spaces like the fire station. Water damage lines the walls and the showers are old enough that proper parts to fix it are not made. This problem has caused only one shower to be in commission for all firefighters to share. Air flow is also a problem, causing rapid changes in temperature within the building.
Fire Chief Justin Sherwood says that up to $10,000 was spent on just replacing cracking bricks on the building. And this problem has not been resolved, as more bricks are starting to show the wear-and-tear of a 50-year-old building.
But the area with the most visible challenges has to be the garage. Along with storing the fire engines, the workout and laundry area share this space. The garage doors themselves are starting to cause additional headaches, as they could fail to open. In the event they don’t open, firefighters would need to manually lift up them up to let the engines to leave the garage.
While Sherwood says these problems will not affect the station’s emergency response efforts, the building’s current conditions have affected staffing. Without proper space, there could not be accommodations for more employees. But Sherwood says if a new building (which could cost up to an estimated $26 million) is constructed but no new employees come to fill it, then the department is back at square one.
The question remains, should the department build a new facility? Or should they continue to play catch up with the repairs and place the proverbial bandage over a bullet hole?
Chief Sherwood has invited the public to set up a time and visit the station so they can view the conditions themselves.
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