If you turn off Assembly Street in Columbia and onto Ferguson Street — a narrow stretch where, in places, high weeds run alongside the crumbling old roadway — you might not initially get the impression that it’s a place where you’ll find a fire station that serves one of the busiest sections of the Capital City.
And yet, down at the end of the street, in a squat, 45-year-old building that was once a floral shop, sits the Columbia Fire Department’s Station 2. It’s a small station that typically houses five firefighters and has one fire truck. And yet, with the explosion of student housing and other apartment complexes off the Assembly Street corridor and in nearby Olympia, it’s a station that often finds itself in the middle of the action.
Now, the city is taking the initial steps that could lead to a new fire station for Olympia. It plans to hire a consultant in coming months to perform an assessment that would give the city at least three possible site locations, potential construction costs, station size and standards for the part of town it would serve, and conceptual design options.
“The current Station  would come offline and be replaced by a brand new station,” Columbia Fire Chief Aubrey Jenkins tells Free Times. “That is the whole goal of this thing, to do away with that station. The station right now is an older building that wasn’t really designed to be a fire station. … It was [put into service] so that we would have coverage down there, because of [Insurance Services Office] requirements. But now that we have more in place in that part of town, we need to move forward and move personnel out of that station into a new building.”
The cost of the assessment for a possible new station is not yet known. Jenkins says the selection of a consultant to perform such an assessment will have to go through the city’s procurement process.
The building where the current Station 2 is located was initially built in 1974 and was a floral shop. The city purchased the building in 1996 and converted it.
“I’d like you to understand that building was 22 years old when we first purchased it,” Columbia Fire Assistant Chief Mickey Folsom told Columbia City Council during a recent meeting. “We retrofitted it to be a firehouse that it was not intended to be. It was intended to be a stopgap measure to provide emergency services and to meet ISO requirements at that time. It was not intended for seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to accommodate firemen.”
Folsom shared a number of shortfalls of the current Station 2, including limited functionality in the way it meets Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, cramped living quarters, an abnormally tight space for pulling the fire truck into and out of the station, and a tiny bathroom.
“Jokingly, you could almost use the bathroom and take a shower at the same time,” Folsom said.
Both Folsom and Jenkins pointed to shifting population trends in the neighborhoods around Station 2 that have come about since 1996. The sprawling Olympia and Granby Mills and 612 Whaley apartments along Whaley Street, the revamped Palmetto Compress building on Devine Street and the massive Empire complex on Assembly Street are but a few of the residential projects that squeezed new residents into the area near Station 2. According to Folsom, all of the various apartment developments close to Station 2 have brought 4,300 new beds to the area in recent years.
“Absolutely, the dynamics have changed,” Jenkins tells Free Times. “You’ve had so much growth in Olympia and in that whole corridor down there. You’ve got more coming. We are a little bit behind right now. We need to catch up and get ahead of the game. We need a new firehouse down there, in part, because of that growth.”
Jenkins says he would prefer a new station be built to accommodate an additional fire truck and at least four more firefighters.
At the April 2 Council meeting, District 4 Councilman Daniel Rickenmann told Jenkins and City Manager Teresa Wilson he wants Council to be plugged into the process of developing plans for a new station, and that he wants the city to think of “options that may be creative.”
“There could be something that we could do that would be very unique that would solve several problems, both for the fire department and the city, in a project,” Rickenmann said. “I think we ought to look at it both ways.”
Specifically, Rickenmann says he’d be interested in exploring whether there could be a development where there is a fire station on the bottom floor, and residences built over top of it.
“I have seen some designs where stakeholders came together and you had residential on top of a fire station and you had other businesses around the fire station,” Jenkins told Rickenmann.