Two-story structure designed to withstand Category 4 hurricane winds
Shortly after 8:30 a.m. on July 9, Sarasota County Fire Chief Michael Regnier stood behind a podium on the ground floor of the new Fire Station 13.
“My heart is beating out of my chest right now,” he said as he looked out over an audience of firefighters, county commissioners and staff, special guests and news media members.
Usually, he said, events such as the one that morning do not make him nervous. “But for this one, I don’t know why …”
The occasion was the official opening of the two-story facility that replaces the original Fire Station 13, which dated to 1974.
Finally, Regnier told the audience members, “Everybody come together and say, ‘Wow!’ One, two, three — Wow!”
Voices rang out in unison with his.
“You’re not going to believe what it looks like upstairs,” he continued. “I am super impressed.”
Noting that he had made numerous visits to the site as construction was taking place, Regnier added, “I am just blown away [by the results].”
The 10,500-square-foot station cost about $5.4 million, according to a county staff document.
Regnier pointed out that after the original facility was razed, “All the dirt was brought in” for elevation purposes, so construction could begin. Not being a builder, Regnier continued, “I stood … at the top of the mound of dirt that was here,” he said, and looked out at Beach Road and thought, “I don’t know how this is going to work.”
As a result of his climb atop that mound, Regnier said, people began referring to the site as “Mount Regnier.”
Rich Collins, director of the county’s Emergency Services Department, pointed out during his remarks that morning, “It was just a year ago, in June 2020, standing back here,” he gestured, that the groundbreaking took place. That was in the early months of the pandemic, he emphasized, with everyone wearing masks and practicing social distancing.
Collins called the new facility an “absolutely beautiful, beautiful building.”
The two-story design has been used with other stations in the county, Collins noted. The structure is hurricane-hardened, he added, and county staff expects it to win certification from the U.S. Green Building Council for its sustainability features.
(A county Capital Projects Department document published this week noted that the structure has been designed to withstand Category 4 hurricane winds.)
The exterior, Collins continued, “was carefully crafted to complement the beach environment,” as the station is adjacent to Siesta Public Beach. (In a “sneak peek” video in advance of the July 9 event, Regnier noted, “We tried to match the façade of the public beach [structures].”)
Collins also referenced the long history of Station 13. In fact, he said, retired Fire Chief Brian Gorski — who was present for the ceremony — was one of the first firefighters to serve at the station. Collins talked of hearing stories about Gorski heading out alone in the fire engine and starting to battle flames as he awaited the arrival of other personnel on the scene.
As a reminder of Fire Station 13’s history, brick from the original structure was included in the new building. Speakers stood in front of one section of that brick as they addressed the audience that morning.
During his comments, Regnier also pointed out that firefighters spend one-third of their lives and careers at fire stations. Making certain they have safe, functional and comfortable quarters, he added, “is what it’s about.”
Regnier made a point of recognizing Kim Humphrey, the employee in the county’s Capital Projects Department, who managed the project; and Assistant County Fire Chief Jim Lowery Jr., who worked with her. “These two really stepped up.”
Moreover, Regnier thanked the Siesta Key Fire Rescue Advisory Council (SKFRAC) for its many years of support for Fire Station 13. The Council in early 2018 donated a Polaris Beach Rescue vehicle and a Stryker Power Loading System to Station 13, which can be used for emergency operations on the beach, Regnier noted.
Additionally, the Council contributed $16,000 for weight training equipment for the new station.
Collins also extended his appreciation to all of the Emergency Services Department personnel who were present, but especially to the firefighters and paramedics, who served on the front lines of the pandemic. “And there’s a lot of ’em,” he noted.
After all the remarks — including comments that County Commission Chair Alan Maio provided — Collins explained that, with fire station openings, ribbon cuttings are not the order of the day. Instead, he told the audience, “We do a hose uncoupling. That tradition goes back a long time, he said, mentioning the days when teams of horses pulled fire wagons.
Collins invited everyone to join him outside the station. Then, with Commissioners Maio, Christian Ziegler and Ron Cutsinger standing alongside, two firefighters — Patricia Wacha and Christopher Tedrick — officially uncoupled the hose.
The ‘sneak peek’
In a Facebook video uploaded to the county’s Emergency Services Department pages on July 1, Chief Regnier takes viewers on a tour of the new facility.
In explaining part of the reason for the two-story design, he noted early on, “There’s not a lot of property on Siesta Key to be building on …”
The first floor does have a public restroom, he said. During the July 9 ceremony, he stressed that the new fire station is a community asset. During the video, he remarked on the fact that people routinely walk by Station 13, especially on their way to and from the public beach.
Bays open to allow the fire engine and ambulance to depart on calls, he said, while a specialized vehicle can leave the property from the rear for fast access to emergencies on the beach.
He also showed off the new fire pole, which enables crew members “to get down to the truck quickly.” Personnel can lock a cover in place beneath the pole at the second level, he pointed out. That ensures safety for any visitors, Regnier said: “No one can fall through.”
Each member of the crew will have his or her own quarters, which can be locked to ensure privacy, Regnier continued, as the camera panned around one such room.
On a tour of the kitchen, he explained that the dishwasher is designed for ultra-fast loads. It can complete a cycle in 1 minute and 45 seconds.
The range also is unique, Regnier added. It shuts off immediately if a call comes in to the station, “so that we wouldn’t have our own fire while we’re out responding …”
The dining table has a special feature, as well, he noted. Embedded in it is a logo for Station 13 that the firefighters helped design, Regnier said. “We’re really proud of it.”
Walking out on the lanai beyond the kitchen and dining area, Regnier noted, “Not a bad view,” as the camera panned around to an area of Siesta Public Beach.
Crew members can eat out on the lanai, if they wish, he added.
Another room doubles for TV watching and training, he continued.
Four or five firefighters will be at the station 24 hours a day, seven days a week, he said. A lieutenant will be in charge of each crew.
As he wrapped up the tour, Regnier talked of being “super excited that the community has supported this project.”