Bright red shovels in hand, Chattanooga leaders broke ground Thursday on a new fire station they hope to complete in May 2024 in the Eastdale community.
Originally constructed in 1960, Station 15 at 912 Shallowford Road is Chattanooga's oldest fire hall and has become too cramped to meet the needs of the department and the surrounding community.
The existing 3,600-square-foot facility will be demolished and replaced with a new 9,500-square-foot building that will occupy the same footprint. The project will cost about $4.3 million.
"It served its community well, but it's time to move on," Fire Chief Phil Hyman told attendees. "It's time for an upgrade. It's time to make something really good for this community. We hate to see this building go, but it has surpassed its limits and surpassed its usefulness to us."
The new fire station will increase the number of truck bays from one to two. The building will also have a kitchen, living area, locker rooms, sleeping rooms, showers and a gym.
Chattanooga breaks ground on new fire station
Chattanooga is growing, and Shallowford Road is busier than it's ever been, Hyman said. Call volume at Station 15 has increased.
"This is a fairly busy station, whether it's medical calls or fires or vehicle accidents," he said. "The call load has increased, so it only makes sense to put a new station here and increase your coverage."
Other fire halls on the department's priority list were originally built in the 1970s. Station 8 off Hickory Valley Road, an old house the city converted into a fire hall, is among them.
Engine 15 and the personnel who work at Station 15 on all three rotating 24-hour shifts will be relocated to Station 6 on Bonny Oaks Drive for the duration of construction, department spokeswoman Lindsey Rogers said in a news release
To ensure fast response times while construction is underway, the city has installed stop lights in the Wilcox Tunnel to allow fire trucks to travel through. Currently, fire trucks must use others routes because it's too narrow for them to fit with other vehicles.
Councilwoman Demetrus Coonrod, of Eastdale, lives just blocks away from the fire station, which she noted was 14 years old by the time she was born. The building will continue to act as a hub for the community, she said, serving as a spot for safety workshops and a source of reassurance for residents in times of crisis.
"This firehouse represents more than just bricks and mortar," Coonrod said during the ceremony. "It embodies the spirit of unity, the power of collective action. It is a testament of our community's unwavering determination to safeguard the lives and property of our fellow residents."
Firefighters who worked at Station 15 were like family to members of the community, Coonrod said.
"We knew them by name, the amount of years they had been working here and we would all be sad if somebody got sent to a different fire hall," she said in an interview.
The project has been a priority for the Fire Department for many years, Mayor Tim Kelly said during the ceremony.
"When you're mayor, you have a lot of priorities fighting for your time and attention," Kelly said. "Good things from workforce development and economic growth and the exciting progress we're making closing gaps in community health and early learning ... but an effective responsive government is the bedrock enabler of all those other priorities.
"Because if you're trash isn't getting picked up on time and the fire trucks aren't showing up when you need them to, none of that other stuff matters," the mayor said.