GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids Fire Department Lt. Jeff Martin has worked at Engine House 10 on S. Division Avenue, built in 1926, for a decade.
He loves the character of the house. It was the first built for motorized fire engines. But the ergonomics leave a lot of be desired.
“We pride ourselves on keeping our fire engines clean,” Martin said, showing News 8 the tight squeeze firefighters have while trying to wash the engine in the narrow space between the modern apparatus and the interior wall of the station. “You bang the wall with the brush. So usually, we take out carwash brush and cut the tip off.”
That’s just an inconvenience. The bigger concern is that there’s no way to separate the gear that collects carcinogens at fire scenes from living quarters in the old firehouse.
“It’s just functionally obsolete,” GRFD Chief Brad Brown said.
The state budget for the next fiscal year, passed Wednesday by the Legislature, contains $35 million that will, in part, finance the building of a new, modern station just a few blocks away on S. Division on property already owned by the city.
It’s not the only new building in store for GRFD.
A much-needed new firehouse on the Southeast Side is planned for property the city bought earlier this year on Kalamazoo Avenue between 36th and 44th Street. GRFD has been monitoring the rate of responses to the area for about a decade.
“Call volume has risen. Streets have been added, populations and businesses have infilled,” Brown said. “And we have a tremendous amount of calls south of 28th Steet that take a pretty decent amount of time to get down to.”
It will be the city’s 12th firehouse and the first new one built since 1986.
Another facility, a new, state-of-the-art training center, is expected to go on a site near Alpine Avenue on the West Side.
The timing of the funding was right, as the cost of construction continues to rise.
“So we are very excited that we will be able to fully fund the Division Avenue Fire Station, fully fund the new station in the Third Ward. make a significant impact on the training center and reduce that capital load on the city,” Brown said.
Labor and management worked together to make sure those state dollars were coming to Grand Rapids. It began with a call from Grand Rapids City Manager Mark Washington to Firefighters Local 366 President Joe Dubay just nine days before the budget was supposed to be finalized.
With labor-friendly Democrats in control in Lansing for the first time in decades, Dubay reached out to allies in the state House and Senate, asking for $30 million but expecting no more than $20 million.
“We got a little more than we asked for, but what we needed,” Dubay said. “The south end of the city has been expanding. It’s become pretty hard to reach in some areas, even somewhat underserved. We need more coverage in the south end.”
The $35 million is one-time funding that will pay for the brick-and-mortar projects, but the city will need more firefighters to keep up with calls. This spring, in announcing his fiscal 2023-2024 budget, the city manager mentioned the possibility of going to voters for funding to support fire operations. That idea is still on the table.
“Obviously, as our risk profile keeps going up in the city, we’re going to need to keep pace with our staff,” Brown said.
He said he hopes to have the new stations opened in the next three years.