Birdseye fire station proponents launch Round 2


BIRDSEYE — A new focus and undimmed enthusiasm were present Monday evening when more than 120 people launched Birdseye’s second bid to land a grant to build a new fire station.

“I got one thing to say,” resident Richard Berg remarked at what was the latest public hearing dedicated to applying for a construction grant. “I want a new fire house.”

A large crowd seated on folding chairs inside the current fire station’s bays met Berg’s declaration with a loud round of applause.

It was Sept. 5 when Indiana 15 Regional Planning Commission Senior Project Administrator Nathan Held came to a Birdseye Town Council meeting to break the news that Birdseye’s grant application seeking money for a new fire station was not funded. It was learned that just three projects got funding, with a large chunk of the available money understandably going to a community whose fire station burned.

Held attended Monday’s public hearing and shared that Birdseye scored well when it made its case for funding in the last grant round, garnering 271 of 300 possible points in one primary category. There was just not enough money to go around.

“They did tell us that, if this potentially was another round, it most likely would have gotten funded,” Held said, adding that Monday’s strong turnout would strengthen Birdseye’s next application.

Proposals are due Oct. 4 and the official application must be submitted by Nov. 22.

Birdseye has had no trouble making the case that a new fire station is needed.

The existing 9 W. First St. station dates to the late 1960s and has many limitations, not the least of which it is basically too shallow and short for the modern trucks it houses and it is situated just feet away from railroad tracks. With limited space, the fire department stores its water rescue equipment in a cooking shed behind the fire house.

Talks to relocate away from the town’s railroad tracks began in earnest around 2010 because of inherent hazards. Should a train ever derail in Birdseye, the $4 million in assets inside the station by the tracks could be lost.

“Just one time is all it would take,” Fire Chief David “Smitty” Smith said about the potential for a derailment.

Three of the department’s four trucks have been modified to be able to get into and out of the existing building and all of the department’s trucks have to be pulled outside to make room inside for training sessions. When it’s freezing cold, that means going to any available large garage so water in pumpers does not freeze.

Universal Design Associates, Ferdinand, has drawn up plans to build a new, $719,000 fire station on an old school site — a large, town-owned lot south of West Third Street, across from Jake’s Auto Parts & Service.

The new station would feature four large bays (two of them drive-through), a large professional kitchen with a storage pantry, a dedicated washroom for gear, a training room for 50, ADA-accessible restrooms and showers, office and storage space, a storage/mechanical mezzanine, a locker area for firefighters and an in-floor service pit for trucks.

To build it, Birdseye will apply again for a $500,000 construction grant from the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs. There would be a $219,000 local match for the fire department to cover with cash on hand and a $150,000, 20-year loan through German American Bank.

To strengthen the next application, Held and Smith want to expand on explaining the direct residential impact of having a new fire station or, as Held explained, “how it benefits the residents themselves.”

Smith shared that Birdseye’s fire department is called out about 75 times a year and 85% of those pages are medical runs.

One woman present with her husband Monday shared that she would not have been able to attend if not for the recent intervention of the department’s first responders at her home. The woman stated she had been unresponsive and had stopped breathing.

The first fire department personnel showed up within two minutes and saved his wife’s life, the woman’s husband added.

The couple who did not know the first responders who had rendered aid said they wanted to thank the department and support its quest for a modern fire station away from the railroad tracks.

The crowd applauded the couple’s comments and Smith, who remembered the medical run, thanked them for coming.

The fire chief said his goal is to explain to those scoring the next application that a grant for Birdseye is not just about fire protection.

“It’s about life saving,” he added.

One more public hearing will be held toward the end of October before the town’s grant application is resubmitted.

Smith encouraged those in attendance to keep the faith.

“We just missed that (last) grant, guys,” Smith said. “I mean, the score was right there. This time, I believe we’re going to get it. Everybody keep their fingers crossed.”

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