Leicester – It was 1978 when the Leicester Fire Department, with an all-volunteer staff, moved to a new facility on Leicester Highway. Now, 45 years later, the department, once again, has a new home.
Times have changed since that last move, but one thing remains, the dedication of the men and women who serve their community. Leicester Fire Chief Ted Godleski recounted for the Tribune how the new facility, which now is located beside the Leicester Library off Alexander Road. It’s just down the street from the department’s old building. Ted stood proudly in his new office inside the state-of-the-art facility that the fire department now calls home.
“It [the old fire station] served its purpose well, but over the years … due to constraints put on us by the state and everything else as far as training and regulations, we’ve had to put on paid people,” explained Godleski regarding the shift from an all-volunteer station to a paid personnel station with volunteers. “And so we retrofitted that [old] one as best we could. Back several years ago, we saw the need that we had outgrown that one and started looking into possibly building a new main station.” Leicester Fire Department, which covers a large rural area has two substations – one on Newfound Road and the other in the Sandy Mush Community.
How The New Station Came To Be
Godleski credits the Leicester Leader Newspaper in helping the department find its new home. “Actually it was way back in 2009 … at our annual meeting and there happened to be a reporter from the Leicester Leader there … and put it in the newspaper and Donna and Gary Meadows…owned this property, and they got in touch with the fire department.” In 2010, the department bought the property from the Meadows.
The next step was getting a loan for the $5.7 million station. Godleski recounts how they went with a USDA Rural Development loan, allowing them to extend the payments over 35 years. The USDA loan also enabled them the additional advantage of choosing which loan rate to go with: the rate when the loan was approved or the rate at closing opting for whichever was lower. That alone helped the Fire Department in saving about $65,000 a year on interest. He said the department did not have to ask for an increase in fire tax to pay for the new building.
On April 6th 2020, the fire department’s board broke ground on the new building. Now, two years later almost to the day, the department has a new home.
New Station Features
So how does the new station compare to the old one? Like night and day. The old building was of metal construction with about 8,000 square feet under a 10-foot roof with few of the necessities required in modern fire stations. The new station is nearly double the size, with more than 15,000 square feet in a block building along with 14 foot plus high ceilings in the bays where the rolling equipment is parked. It also has modern features incorporated into the structure that many come to expect in a firehouse, and some one would not anticipate seeing.
As you tour the new structure, you will find the modern facility, well-lit offices, a training room, a weight room, dayroom with a up-to-date kitchen allowing each shift its own secure pantry area. The living quarters where personnel reside and sleep feature six individual bedroom quarters and four bathrooms. Some rooms accommodate up to six personnel when more sleeping areas are required.
In addition to the spaces for parking their over a dozen emergency vehicles, including their ambulances and the soon arriving side-by-side utility vehicle, there are three bays. Integrated into the bays are other features that will help with training: a decontamination area for turnout gear with a heavy-duty washer and a dryer closet. In addition, it is supplying water for the sprinkler system throughout the living quarters and is also furnished with oxygen generator for replenishing their oxygen packs.
Step outside the building, and the features keep coming. They have a 9,300-gallon rainwater collection system, allowing them to wash equipment and use it as a close-proximity water supply for incidental fires near the station. Godleski points out, that as a rural department, there are no fire hydrants to rely on in much of the district. The department depends on water-extraction points, such as creeks and ponds; otherwise, water has to be shuttled in via tanker trucks.
There is a 230kw diesel generator to run the station in case of a power outages. There is even room for future expansion. While some may think there’s already more than what personnel needs for a fire station, the facility was built to last the community 50-plus years into the future. “We told the architect, ‘We don’t want a Taj Mahal,’” says Godleski, “But we don’t want another metal building.”
What Department Members are Saying About the New Station
Asked what he believes the new facility means for the community, Leicester Fire Department Board President Ronald Prestwood told the Tribune, “I think the community will appreciate it from the standpoint of being a help to the community,” explained Prestwood, who has been with the department since 1995. “We were at this point three or four years ago looking and saying, ‘We’ve outgrown the old station. We need something…because the population of the community has really grown as you’ve seen, as every community has in Western North Carolina. We had a station that was designed and built in the 70s.” Prestwood said they considered all that when going ahead and designing something that would last at least five decades. “Hopefully, it will go longer than that.”
“It’s a big source of pride — more room. We can baby the equipment better. Keep it up. It’s just better,” said Firefighter/EMS Roger Banks of the new facility.
Fire Captain Mark Henderson told the Tribune, “This is a big morale boost. We have a lot of new equipment. It’s really nice, and the station doesn’t limit our trucks anymore.” “We’re all excited and happy,” added one EMS worker.
The station will hold an open house on May 14th at 10 am with bluegrass music, food and members of the Erwin ROTC who assist during the open house. The public is invited.
Editor’s note: The Leicester Leader newspaper was absorbed into the Tribune during the COVID-19 pandemic.