By Felicia A. Petro/Senior Reporter
After five years of planning, Pine Township Engine Company is now digging.
Firefighters had a groundbreaking Friday morning to celebrate construction for a new $1.6 million addition to the former Grove City Rescue Squad building on South Center Street Extension.
The township purchased the rescue squad building last year for $175,000, said supervisor George Hegstrom yesterday. Contractors Hudson Construction, Hermitage, moved into the site Thursday to set up shop for the project.
"I'm super excited," said Chris Holmes, fire chief. "It's a great building, fantastic how it all worked out. We have 19.1 acres here and we can do whatever we want with the land," added his father, Assistant Chief Joe Holmes.
"It's been a long time coming," said Scott Verne, president of the engine company. "I'm just glad this thing is finally under way."
The 12,000-square-foot addition will include four, drive-through bays "so you don't have to back up trucks," Chris Holmes said. It will also have a workout room, air compressor room, storage, meeting room and bathrooms.
The building now has three bays, a kitchen and meeting/reception area that hosted events and popular Bingo games for years.
Joe Holmes stated that the current bays will eventually be made into office space and the existing kitchen in the building will eventually be renovated.
"We're also adding a training tower on the back of the building," Chris Holmes said. "It simulates training going into high-rise buildings. Will be able to rappel with ropes off of it."
The project will be paid for with a loan approved in November that the township will pay off, he noted. The local services tax was enacted earlier this year by the township to help cover the costs, Joe Holmes added.
The building project has been in the planning stages since 2007.
"We started off with the 'ultimate fire station' but had to trim the price down," Verne said.
"We wanted the Taj Mahal and got a cookie shop," said firefighter William "Willie" Caldwell. The $1.6 million "is pretty cheap for a fire company," he noted.
It includes a $260,000 public water line from Grove City Borough that will run from George Junior Road to the fire house, Chris Holmes said. The building currently has well water, Caldwell added.
Pine firefighters station is currently on Barkeyville Road, which includes three bays attached to the township building. Five of the firefighters' seven trucks are stacked by depth in the bays, and the remaining two are now at the South Center location.
"It'll be neat to not be cramped into a small building," Verne stated. "We are totally out of room," Chris Holmes said. Once the construction is completed by its May 30 deadline, everything will be transferred to the new building.
That will free up the truck storage at the township building, Hegstrom said. Trucks are now being parked outside at a location where the township stores its salt on Gill Road.
Grove City Rescue, formerly an emergency response team that primarily assisted at vehicular accidents, disbanded about a year ago, said Caldwell, who had been the president of the squad.
"Nowadays fire companies do their own (rescues)," he said, like using the jaws of life to cut up mangled vehicles to remove drivers stuck inside. "We got fewer and fewer calls," Caldwell added, but the squad still had about 10 or 11 people hanging on. About five or six members joined Pine firefighters when the township purchased the rescue squad building, he noted.
"It's for the better," said Denny Winger Jr., former squad chief, who became a Pine firefighter with Caldwell.
In its prime, the squad hosted its popular Bingo nights on Saturdays with jackpots as large as $1,000, Caldwell said. Bingo night could bring in up to $3,000, Winger added. Games continued after the township bought the building, but stopped around Christmas last year due to internal tensions, he said.
"It's a lot of work and you need a lot of help to run it," Caldwell said. "The little, old ladies are mad at us, but there weren't enough people to keep doing it."
A special touch to the station renovation with be a bronze statue of Brad Holmes at the new entrance of the building.
Brad Holmes was 21 when he died March 5, 2008 from burns sustained in a search and rescue operation at a house fire on 132 Garden Avenue in Grove City less than a week prior, which also took the life of a resident Patricia Andrews-Smith, 40. Firefighter Scott King was injured in the operation, but survived.
Money from a memorial fund in honor of Brad Holmes - which the fire company administrates - is helping to fund the $33,000 statue, said Joe Holmes, Brad's father. Memorial bricks are being sold to fund the renovations and decorate the ground around the statue, he added. About 250 have been sold so far.
The Holmes family suggested the 6-foot memorial statue to the fire department. It has already been created by Captured Moments in Stone, Brooklyn, N.Y., Joe Holmes noted. However, "no one will see it until it unveiled," said Chris Holmes, brother of the fallen firefighter.
Brad Holmes knew the fire company needed a new place, and his father is certain he would "absolutely" be proud that its come this far, he said. His death has made the family closer, "and I think it's made the fire department closer as well," he said.
There are 35 firefighters with Pine.
Published Dec. 8, 2012, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.