Hamilton County is breaking ground on a new station for the Mowbray Volunteer Fire Department, which has operated out of the same prefabricated metal building since the department's inception in 1979.
The current station has black mold, as water pours in from the roof every time it rains and also collects under the building, said Chris Weddington, the department's chief since 2011. The department has also outgrown the space, and many of its emergency vehicles must currently be parked outside, he said.
The new 23,000-square-foot station includes five, 100-foot drive-thru bays to store the department's emergency vehicles, and will allow for better organization and encourage more community support, said Weddington.
"It will be something nice in the community that people can be proud of," he said, adding that it should also help with recruiting new volunteers.
The new station will be more energy efficient, and provide training space and sleeping quarters for firefighters, said Weddington.
The all-volunteer fire department serves about 3,000 people in more than 1,500 homes across a 40-square-mile service area, according to the department's website. It also assists nearby departments such as Soddy-Daisy, Sale Creek and other members of the Tri-State Mutual Aid Association.
"It'll be a game-changer for the department," Weddington said of the new station. "We've worked real hard to get where we're at, and we're still progressing."
He said the department has gone from one or two calls a year to 220 calls this year.
District 1 Hamilton County Commissioner Randy Fairbanks, who's been in office for five years, said he's been working on getting the new station funded since his first year in office.
"Without his support we probably wouldn't be where we're at," Weddington said of Fairbanks.
Hamilton County is spending $5.9 million on the new station, said Fairbanks, who also used his discretionary funds to purchase a six-wheeler for the department for emergency rescues.
Mowbray is home to several popular recreation areas including Stone Fort (known to the rock climbing community as "Little Rock City"), and the department's volunteers are the first responders for emergencies and rescues in those areas.
Shortly after the vehicle's purchase, it was used to rescue a man from a high fall, and may have saved the man's life, Fairbanks said.
"I'm very appreciative of the volunteer fire departments in my district," said Fairbanks, whose district includes the Sale Creek, Sequoyah, Flat Top Mountain and Mowbray departments. "If everyone tried to pinpoint the hours they put in, it would be thousands and thousands of dollars."
The new station is expected to be complete in November 2020, said Weddington.
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