Gadsden breaks ground on new fire station

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Photo: City of Gadsden officials broke ground on the new Fire Station No. 5 Tuesday, June 4. Pictured, from left: Mayor’s Chief of Staff Brett Johnson, City Engineer Heath Williamson, Fire Chief Wil Reed, City Councilman Larry Avery, City Councilman Chris Robinson, Mayor Craig Ford, Police Chief Lamar Jaggears, architect Thomas McElrath, Director of City Services Tena King. Kaitlin Hoskins/The Messenger


By Lindsey Frazier, Editorial Assistant

At the entrance of the Noccalula Falls Park Campground is an empty lot where Fire Station No. 5 was located. Dirt, concrete and metal doors are all that remain of the building that occupied the space since the late 1950s.

Gadsden Mayor Craig Ford, along with various city and state officials, firefighters, police officers, Chamber members and members of the public attended an on-site groundbreaking ceremony for the new Fire Station No. 5 on Tuesday, June 4.

The event celebrated the beginning of the revitalization of the fire station on the mountain — a revitalization that many in the city agreed was a priority.

“I want to thank [Mayor Ford] for keeping his promise,” said Fire Chief Wil Reed, “When he and I rode around to every fire station in the city, he said, ‘show me your trouble spots.’ He saw what was wrong and he promised me that day that we were going to build three stations.”

The old station No. 5 had “tremendous” plumbing issues, a leaking roof and mold, according to some of the firefighters who worked at the previous firehouse. The firefighters assigned to the station even had to rearrange a sleeping quarter to keep rain from leaking onto the beds.

“We are just very glad and excited that it’s finally happening,” said Britton Dove, a driver from station No. 5. “It’s been a long time coming. I don’t know if this is the oldest station, but it sure does feel like it.”

The new building will resemble a log cabin to better fit the theme of the mountain’s campground and park.

In addition to the log cabin façade, the new structure will feature large red doors, which were requested by Ford, who said that red doors are iconic to a fire station.

“You think of a fire department with red doors,” Ford said. “So, I said let’s change those roll-up doors to red. I think that’s going to pop when you drive through here. It’s going to look good. Every fire station will have those red doors.”

The fire station will also house a command post for the police department, which is a first for Gadsden. The idea for the shared location is modeled after similar dual command centers in New York City, according to Ford.

The expected cost of the project is nearly $3 million, and officials anticipate the construction being completed by January 2025.

For now, the firefighters are working out of a temporary trailer across the street from Noccalula Falls Park.

“Mayor Ford and the Gadsden City Council wanted to make sure that the Falls and the mountain community didn’t go without fire and rescue services during the 12 months of construction,” said Brett Johnson, chief of staff for Mayor Ford’s office. “So, we reached out to Mayor Ford’s former chief of staff [Lance Latham] who runs the Alabama Manufactured House Association, and we were able to work out a deal where basically we will have a modular home across the street from the Kiwanis Pavilion.”

For the past year and a half, Ford and his staff have been working with the firefighters and the fire chief to modernize the department. No. 5 is one of three stations that are on the project list.

“I don’t want to spoil the surprise of the things to come in the upcoming weeks, but the mayor has worked with us on several other projects,” Reed said. “We are talking millions of dollars in projects to help the fire department and to help this community.”

In February, the Gadsden City Council officially accepted a bid for $2,829,209.97 from Boatner Construction for construction of the new facility. Boatner has been involved with multiple construction projects across Gadsden, including Gadsden State Community College, Moragne Park and Gadsden City High School.

“Let’s say in January, you see this fire station, you see this campground, you see this train shed that’s already built, you see this big barn, you see the zoo over there, you see the train going by… Think of the tourism dollars flooding into this area,” Ford said. “This is fantastic.”

According to Ford, the construction of a new firehouse comes on the heels of a campground-wide revitalization project designed to take advantage of the natural beauty of Noccalula Falls.

The Noccalula Falls project began in January of this year and will include new underground utilities throughout the campground, renovation of both bathhouses, construction of a new zero-entry swimming pool and pavilion, conversion of the existing administrative office into an additional rentable cabin, construction of a new administrative office, overall landscape improvements, and more. The revitalization also includes reconstruction of the parking lot between Noccalula Road and the campground entrance and new signage. The project’s estimated cost is just over $11 million.

“This is a great opportunity to improve things not only for our visitors and tourists but also for our first responders and residents on Lookout Mountain,” Ford said in a statement to The Messenger in January.

“I think this just shows you the commitment of what we feel as an administration and a council, that we are trying to support our first responders,” Ford said Tuesday, June 4. “This is important… it’s also important to our community.”

Reed echoed the importance of the new station and how it will help the community.

“This fire station not only helps me keep my firefighters safe, but this enhances what we provide to the community up here,” Reed said. “We can put more than one piece of equipment up here to protect this community.”

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