Facility next to the Celery Fields designed to withstand Category 4 hurricanes
On Sept. 16, exactly 12 months and one day after construction began on Sarasota County’s new Fire Station No. 8 on Apex Road, members of the County Commission joined Fire Chief Michael Regnier and Emergency Services Director Rich Collins for the grand opening of the facility.
“It seems like it was just yesterday we were here breaking ground,” Collins told the audience assembled in the four-bay area of the fire station.
“Unbelievable” is how Regnier characterized the speed of construction.
Since 2010, Collins continued, fire crews have been operating out of temporary quarters consisting of a mobile home and Quonset-hut-type facility for the equipment, next door to the new station. Regnier noted that the Emergency Services Department staff recognized “we needed a presence in this location” of a more permanent nature. The county commissioners also saw that need, he said.
Commission Chair Michael Moran pointed out that the station will serve “our commercial and residential property owners and residents east of Interstate 75.” It is located at 840 Apex Road, on what county staff refers to as the “Northwest Quad,” right next to the Celery Fields internationally known bird-watching area.
The new station encompasses 13,000 square feet, Collins said. It also has a 6,800-square-foot storage facility for the Fire Department’s Special Operations team. Both structures are rated to withstand a Category 4 hurricane, he pointed out, and design features were incorporated to earn the station a green building designation.
Moran noted that material resembling limestone was used in the construction of the station. That is a nod, he said, to the fact that limestone was sprinkled on the fields where celery was grown decades ago in the Celery Fields, which in modern times was transformed into a county stormwater project. The limestone was believed to enrich the soil, Moran added.
During his remarks, Chief Regnier talked of the beautiful sunrise that morning, which he took as a welcoming sign for the future of the station. Even though the facility was designed to last 50 years, he said, “This one is going to be here 100 years or more,” thanks to numerous aspects of that design and the durability of the construction materials. The quality of the facility “is second to none,” he added.
Regnier recognized Sweet Sparkman Architects of Sarasota for the design and Willis A. Smith Construction of Sarasota as the contractor.
A county fact sheet says the design work cost $599,235, while the construction contract was for $7,486,310.
One unique feature to which Regnier pointed is the tower on the front of the station. It is “not just for aesthetics,” he explained; personnel can use it for training. (In a county video produced on Sept. 15, Regnier said members of the Special Operations team, for example, can practice rappelling.)
As for that Special Operations team: Regnier explained on Sept. 16 that is available not only to assist with county emergency situations but also to travel to communities statewide. “We’re ready and willing to support anyone who asks.”
Regnier has talked in the past of Sarasota County Fire Department personnel heading to the Florida Panhandle in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael’s strike in October 2018.
All of the Special Operations team’s equipment has been stored under tents at a fire station on Bee Ridge Road, he said during his guided tour in the Sept. 15 video. The County Commission recognized the need to protect that equipment and maintain it in one place, he added.
During that Sept. 15 video, Regnier also pointed out that approximately 12 firefighters will be at Station No. 8 every day. Each person will have his or her own bunkroom, he noted.
Among other important features of the facility, he continued, specialized equipment has been installed to remove carcinogens from the gear firefighters wear in responding to incidents. That is significant, he explained, because “Firefighters are prone to cancer.” That is a result of their exposure to smoke and toxic fumes that emanate from a wide variety of materials on fire.
Collins of Emergency Management also took the opportunity during the grand opening to note that the Fire Department handles about 65,000 calls each year countywide. That works out to approximately 170 calls a day, he said. Referencing the additional challenges crew members have faced during the novel coronavirus pandemic, Collins added of the firefighters, “They have worked tirelessly to keep the county safe.”
Following all the remarks, Collins explained, “Instead of a ribbon-cutting, we do a hose uncoupling” to signify the start of service of a new fire station. Accordingly, he invited those inside the facility to head outside for that ceremony.