COLON – A new building is going up on the east side of Colon and soon it will serve the fire protection needs of the community.
The Colon Rural Fire District No. 9 is constructing a new fire hall on Spruce Street, one of the main roads into and through town.
Rural Fire District Board President Greg Williams said it was space needs and safety concerns that drove the decision to use taxpayer money to build a new station for Colon Volunteer Fire Department trucks and equipment.
“This allows us to give the department the capability to be able to serve the community,” he said.
Colon Fire Chief Jim Ondracek said the new fire hall will be 80 by 100 square feet. It will feature four bay doors. Four of the bays will be full depth inside the building, while the third will have office space in the rear.
The new building will also offer firefighters space to walk around their trucks.
The current fire hall, built in 1964, is filled to capacity with trucks. Ondracek said there are three bays that can each hold two trucks.
The size of the trucks have changed since the fire hall was built, however.
“The front truck is up against the door and the back truck’s bumper is against the wall,” he said.
And, there is just room enough in between the trucks for a firefighter to squeeze through.
Ondracek said the department would like to take advantage of a Nebraska Forestry Department program and purchase a truck to replace one that had to be taken out of service.
Because of the limited space in the fire hall, that can’t happen.
Williams said the discussion to buy land and build a new fire hall has been an ongoing one and was a decision that was not taken lightly. He said people understood the need, but everyone also understands that tax money has to be used prudently.
There has been support for the project. However, he said the rural board heard time and time again that the new fire hall had to be built without bells and whistles.
The focus has been put on making the new fire hall functional, not fancy. The district does have some money set aside for the project that does not have a final price tag established yet. A bond will be taken out to pay for the balance.
Ondracek said the basics will be put into the building to start and more will be added as money becomes available. Two offices and a mechanical room are ultimately planned for the fire hall, but one meeting room will be built to start.
The same is true of the restrooms. One full restroom with shower will be built initially, but plumbing and space is allocated for an additional one in the future.
Plans are to have a kitchen in one of the meetings rooms, but that is not one of the priorities to complete in this first building phase.
For the Rural Fire Board, the priorities are to make sure space and safety needs are met first.
“At the end of the day, our department is run by volunteers,” Williams said. “As a rural board member, one of the first things I learned and always remember is keeping them safe is our No. 1 concern.”
Now, Ondracek said something as simple as changing the oil on a truck cannot be done without a major shuffle of equipment. Space outside of the building is even limited.
“When we pull a truck out to work on it, it’s halfway in the street,” he added.
The Rural Fire Board looked at several sites before deciding on the one under construction. Williams said one of the features of this site was that it did have adequate space around the building.
This is opportune because it allows space for firefighter training as well as possible expansion in the future. Thinking of future generations, he added, is important.
Ondracek said the current department is not big, but members work well together.
“We don’t have the most members, but I know I am going to have good response from them all the time,” he said.
There are 11 members and three cadets on the department. The cadet programs features youth ages 14 to 17 who learn some of the firefighting basics. Several current department members started as cadets.
Having a new fire hall might also be an enticement for more cadets and members, Ondracek added.
Williams said the new fire hall will better meet the needs of the department, but it will also serve the community in other ways. He said there would be opportunities for the public to use the meeting room at the new fire hall as well.
Construction should be completed this fall.