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The GearGrid Story

“Sorry, there’s no money.” That’s the message the Taylors Falls Fire Department got from the city back in 1987, when the topic of a new fire hall first came up. Like many other cities, Taylors Falls, Minnesota, located across the St. Croix River from Wisconsin, was experiencing a budget crunch. The need for a new fire hall was clear. The fire department, almost as old as the 140 year-old city itself, had never had its own building.

 

“Over the years, we’ve been in quite a few different buildings, including the basement of the city’s community center, which used to be an old railroad depot,” about-geargrid-weldersaid Assistant Chief Mike Boyer. From 1980 to 1997, the department had been stationed at the old Masonic lodge, a structure ill-suited to the fire service. “What spurred the need for a new fire hall was the fact that the old hall did not have room for all of our equipment,” Boyer said. “We had trucks scattered around town in various other buildings. Also, one of our trucks didn’t fit through the garage door.” Undaunted by the city’s denial of funds, the 24 firefighters set about raising money. With the proceeds from pull-tabs, they had already put a new equipment truck into service the previous year. With a history of fiscal economy and the skills and talents within the department, the firefighters were convinced they could build a new fire hall without using any tax dollars. “We decided years ago to commit the pull-tab money to the planning and building of a new fire hall, and to turn down all other requests for donations,” said Boyer. Each day, one of the firefighters would go around to each of the four bars in town, collect the sold-out pulltab games, put new games in, and do the bookkeeping.

Eight years of saving produced enough funds to put two new vehicles into service: a grass fire truck (1991) and a 1987 pumper truck (1996), and begin construction on the new building. In April 1997, the department hired Don Baker & Associates, an architecture firm willing to work with members of the fire department who had already come up with a design. The new building, 76 feet by 76 feet, would be part of a 10,500 square-foot complex, eventually housing the police department and the city offices, as well as the fire department.

One of the firefighters, Greg Rivard, donated approximately 25 to 30 percent of the excavation services through his company, Cross County Excavating, according to Boyer. During this early phase of construction, a blasting company was hired to deal with trap rock – the abundant rock formations in and around Taylors Falls. The new fire hall, built with precast concrete panels, is nestled right into the rock, with a three-stall, “Walk-out” design.

Another firefighter, Ross Rivard, donated hundreds of hours toward the project as the liaison between the city council, the firefighters working on construction and the architect. He also did some of the electrical work through his company, Wild River Electric. “Since I’m on the city council, I couldn’t bid the job,” Ross Rivard said. “However, we wrote up the specs, and with the firefighters’ assistance, we did a lot of the control work, as well as the cabling for the computer, TV and phone systems.” As construction progressed, other talents emerged. Three of the firefighters – two shop teachers and a cabinet maker – did all of the woodworking on donated time.

Others installed four large windows in the fire hall and sealed the concrete floors. The firefighters volunteered their labor for drain tile installation and the daily building clean-up during the construction period. “Once the building got started, we had a Fire Department Building Committee that coordinated all projects the firefighters participated in, “Rivard said. “They also made all the decisions about finishing – like picking paint colors and fixtures.” Boyer’s company, Mid-Minnesota Wire, donated 25 new, durable steel-and-wire lockers for storage of turnout gear. Boyer designed the new locker storage system himself to replace the old wooden lockers, which were difficult to keep clean and properly ventilated. When it came time to furnish the fire hall, one of the firefighters arranged to purchase used office furniture at a considerable discount. And this spring, members of the fire department will complete the landscaping.

Under the direction of Chief Tim Rivard, the new fire hall was finished in eight months, $5,000 under budget. In November 1997, the fire department moved in. Boyer estimates that the firefighters donated 3,000 to 4,000 hours of their time and saved tens of thousands of dollars in donated labor and materials. Ross Rivard calculated the pre-square-foot, as listed in Construction Bulletin’s mean square foot costs table for a typical one-story fire station.

Total cost of the project was $485,000 with $285,000 left on the 10-year loan. The fire department had two-and-a-half years of payments already in reserve, and fully expects to pay the entire amount with proceeds from pull-tabs and other donations. “Everyone on the department did different projects and contributed their effort,” Ross Rivard said. “The citizens of Taylors Falls will receive a half-million building, with most of the money raised by – and most of the work done by – the firefighters themselves.”

Needless to say, there’s enough room for all the equipment.