New Charleston fire station sign of new era for department

  • Posted: Thursday, January 9, 2014 5:41 p.m., Updated: Thursday, January 9, 2014 5:56 p.m.

celmore@postandcourier.com

Gleaming truck bays. A spacious, heated fitness center. Stainless steel kitchen appliances.

Charleston's newest fire station, which will house the Fire Department's headquarters, is a far cry from the cramped, historic building where chiefs have directed operations for decades.

City officials applauded the onset of a new age Thursday with a dedication ceremony for Station 9 at King and Heriot streets.

At 19,600 square feet, the building at 1451 King St. is Charleston's largest fire station. The two-story structure boasts five bays that will house firetrucks and a hazmat unit, with administrative offices on the second floor.

The building replaces a much smaller station that was demolished to make way for the new facility in the Wagener Terrace neighborhood. It was designed by Rosenblum Coe Architects and cost about $5.7 million, Charleston Fire Chief Karen Brack said.

"This station won a national design award before it was even built," Mayor Joe Riley told a group of about 100 people at the dedication. "It adds to the beauty and quality of this city."

Central headquarters already has relocated to the building from its former space in the fire station at Wentworth and Meeting streets. That two-engine station will continue to house firefighters, but the space occupied by the department's command staff will be put to another use, possibly as a museum showcasing the rich history of the agency, founded in 1882.

Accessing the chief's office used to require climbing a steep and narrow wooden staircase, which led to a dark, creaky and drafty space out of another era. Bunk rooms sat alongside a warren of offices for departmental commanders, and parking spaces for visitors were few. Paintings of 19th century fire scenes peppered the walls.

That building, housing engine companies 2 and 3, is one of the city's first fire stations. It was built in 1887 and has housed the chief's office since 1974. While it oozes history and tradition, it seems out of step with the modern approach the department has adopted since the deadly Sofa Super Store fire in June 2007.

The blaze, which killed nine city firefighters, led to a complete overhaul of the department's tactics, training and equipment, embracing modern techniques its leaders had long resisted.

The station at King and Heriot is symbolic of that change.

The brick structure was designed with energy efficiency in mind, Riley said. It adheres to current wind and seismic codes, allowing the station to remain functional during possible hurricanes and earthquakes, he said.

"Everything that we are doing now is being done so that we are meeting and achieving national standards," Brack said. "We are always looking at ways that we are going to be able to progress the organization."

The Fire Industry Equipment Research Organization recognized the merit of the building's architectural plan with a national award before construction began in September 2012.

Attendees toured the new station Thursday, taking the opportunity to slide down a fireman's pole and get an inside view of firefighters' bunks and the fitness center.

Tradition was not entirely pushed aside, however. The new aerial ladder truck housed in the building was named in honor of former Battalion Chief Hazel Wine. Wine started with the department in 1966 and, as a captain, led an all-black ladder company until he was promoted to battalion chief. He retired in 2006 and died in March 2010.

Wine's family, including his widow Marie Wine, attended the ceremony in his honor, and they seemed impressed and grateful for the dedication.

"It's good to see that his hard work didn't go in vain," she said.

Glenn Smith contributed to this report.

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