Birdseye lands $500K fire station grant

This is what the new fire station could look like.


BIRDSEYE — Firefighters and town council members in Birdseye have learned that their second bid to land a $500,000 grant to build a new fire station has met with success.

“It’s another wonderful thing for the Town of Birdseye,” said Birdseye Town Council President Bret Eckert. “It will be another new building in this town to continue to move the community forward.”

Birdseye was one of 21 rural communities to receive a combined $12.3 million in federal grant funding, Lt. Governor Suzanne Crouch and the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs announced today.

During Birdseye’s grant application process, Fire Chief David “Smitty” Smith had urged residents to cross their fingers and keep the faith. Large crowds came to public hearings and those strong turnouts ended up strengthening the town’s second application that was submitted last fall.

“It’s huge to get this grant,” Smith said today. “I know the firefighters have worked hard to deserve it, but also, if it wouldn’t be for the community support, we wouldn’t have it.

“I can’t thank the community enough. They really came out. We had pretty inclement weather a few times and they still managed to show up.”

The existing 9 W. First St. station is situated just feet away from railroad tracks. Talks to relocate away from them 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.

The process to get the funding announced today began in 2017 when residents in the Birdseye Volunteer Fire Department’s coverage area filled out income surveys so the town could go after a planning grant. The town eventually received $20,000 for a feasibility study that concluded the community needed a new fire station because the old one — it dates to the late 1960s — is also too shallow and short for the modern trucks it houses.

With limited space, the fire department stores its water rescue equipment in a cooking shed behind the fire house.

Birdseye initially applied for a construction grant early in 2019 but learned in September that the proposal was not funded. Three other projects got money, with a large chunk of the available funds understandably going to a community whose fire station burned.

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 will 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.

In addition to the $500,000 construction grant, the fire department will supply a $219,000 local match with cash on hand and a $150,000, 20-year loan through German American Bank.

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

“We have a hard-workin’ fire department and they really do deserve it,” Eckert said.

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