A long-awaited Columbus fire station for the fast-growing Far East Side should be finished by the end of 2019.
Columbus city officials and other local leaders officially turned shovels of dirt on the site of the future Station No. 35, at 711 N. Waggoner Road, during a ceremony Oct. 17, but construction crews started clearing trees and brush and leveling the property not far from Reynoldsburg weeks ago.
Station 35 has been in the city's plans since before the Great Recession, but construction was delayed amid financial turmoil and then a second time for a redesign that should limit firefighters' exposure to cancer-causing carcinogens.
"Our residents need access to fire protection and EMS," Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther said. "This particular station was a long time coming because not only do our residents deserve safety, but so do our firefighters."
New safety features will include decontamination areas for firefighters returning from calls to clean their equipment and a laundry area that is separate from living quarters.
Fire divisions across Ohio have started taking action to prevent firefighters' exposure to harmful chemicals and carcinogens.
The delay and the design changes increased the cost of the project from about $9 million to about $11.5 million. Finance Director Joe Lombardi said retrofitting the firehouse for those safety features in the future, though, could have driven up costs to about $13 million. The 27,000-square-foot firehouse will have 16 bedrooms and four apparatus bays.
The city already was designing a new Station No. 16 for the Linden area to include the safety features, but was working off an old design for Station 35, said Ned Pettus, the city's safety director. Building a new station without those features didn't make sense, he said.
"We've grown more sophisticated in our society and in our industry," Lombardi said. "We're to the point where we've learned that it makes a difference for firefighters to not bring those contaminants into the living areas."
Pettus said the safety features will keep firefighters from bringing carcinogens into public areas of the firehouse and into their own homes as well.
"We waited a long time," said Dave Montgomery, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 67. "This is cutting-edge."
Montgomery said he expects the safety features to set the standard for all future firehouses in Columbus.
The new fire station will help the Columbus Division of Fire cut response times on the Far East Side by about 50 percent, Fire Chief Kevin O'Connor said.
In the area where the new station will serve, response times are more than 8 minutes, compared with about 5 minutes, 30 seconds citywide. The division also has had to rely more on mutual aid from Jefferson Township in that area because calls to that part of the city more than tripled from 2007 to 2017 due to growing housing developments.
"This station will be a relief to those in the community and to Jefferson Township," said Jennifer Chamberlain, who leads the Far East Area Commission.