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What’s so bad about Durango Fire’s downtown station?

Firefighters deal with cramped living quarters, small garage bays and no sprinkler system
Allen Ottman, a firefighter with Durango Fire Protection District, grabs medical supplies Tuesday from a cabinet in the bay of the district’s downtown fire station. The cabinet should not be placed in the station’s bay, but there is no other area to store it in the tight quarters of the facility. The agency needs a new station because of the safety, health and operational concerns of Station 2. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

After the Durango Fire Protection District board of directors appointed Hal Doughty to fire chief nearly six years ago, the topmost task that was asked of him was to find an appropriate replacement for the downtown fire station, Station 2.

In 2021, after surveying 38 potential sites to rehouse Station 2, Doughty thinks he has found it: the Durango School District 9-R Administration Building at 201 E. 12th St., where the fire department has placed the winning bid to purchase the property.

But what necessitated the search for a new station to begin with? At last week’s Eggs & Issues meeting, Doughty listed infrastructure problems with the station at River City Hall in downtown Durango. The building itself was never built with the intention of being a firehouse, Doughty said.

It was constructed in the 1960s as an electrical warehouse. In the 1980s, it was re-appropriated into a fire station, but the intent then was that the situation would be temporary. About 40 years later, the station attached to River City Hall is still considered a “temporary” solution.

The size of firefighting vehicles have grown over the years and some will not fit into the bays at Durango Fire Protection District Station 2, which is attached to River City Hall. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
Two fire and rescue trucks are parked at odd angles in order to fit them both behind the bay doors at Station 2. The Durango Fire Protection District wants to relocate and build a new downtown fire station to better accommodate equipment and staff members. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Doughty said the facility is not a suitable place to house firefighters or fire trucks. Trucks have to be parked at awkward angles to fit into the apparatus bay – the fire district has more trucks than doors to drive them through.

The apparatus bay presents several safety hazards to the men and women who work at Station 2. Exhaust exposure, limited parking space and crumbling ceilings as a result of water damage are prominent concerns, said Deputy Fire Chief Randy Black.

The station is crewed by eight-person teams working 48-hour shifts. Sometimes, a ninth or 10th person joins a shift rotation. All of the gear and equipment fire and EMS crews use are stored in the lockers in the apparatus bay, right behind where the fire and EMS vehicles are parked.

Firefighter bunker gear and other items are stored in the bay with emergency vehicles that are exposed to exhaust fumes at Durango Fire Protection District Station 2. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

The equipment is exposed to exhaust fumes every time a vehicle is turned on or enters or exits the building, which creates a safety hazard for crews who wear and use the equipment on a regular basis, Black said. Black also said that standards for handling and storing firefighters’ uniforms require them to be kept separated from exhaust and sunlight.

Sleeping quarters are a tight fit, a problem exaggerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. There is little to no privacy between cots for staff members on their 48-hour shifts, particularly in the women’s quarters, which Black said is unacceptable for the people working there. The captain’s quarters are also cramped and lack proper facilities to host important one-on-one meetings with staff members, he said.

Capt. Jordan Ashby with Durango Fire Protection District shows the captain’s office at Station 2, which also serves as the living quarters. It is less than ideal to have one-on-one conversations, which could include pep talks or disciplinary discussions, with one person seated on a bed, said Deputy Chief Randy Black. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
Tight sleeping quarters at Durango Fire Protection District’s Station 2 are separated by curtains and an air filter installed during the COVID-19 pandemic to help circulate air. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Sleeping quarters for crews are tightly packed, which is especially problematic in the era of COVID-19, Black said. Even before the pandemic began, sickness was a problem for firefighters at Station 2.

“If someone was sleeping in here and they had a cold, the next day everyone in here would be sick,” Black said.

The sleeping quarters are another exposure point to exhaust fumes because of a doorway at the end of the hall that leads straight into the apparatus bay.

Because of limited sleeping and bathroom space, only one female firefighter can be on during each shift at Durango Fire Protection District Station 2. Several other fire stations are able to have numerous women working at the same time. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

Sleeping quarters and the apparatus bay aren’t the only areas of the downtown facility that lack adequate space, Black said. The central meeting, briefing and training area at River City Hall contains a small table that can barely fit all eight regular crew members at the same time.

Station 2 is also not fitted with a fire-safety sprinkler system, the irony of which was not lost on Doughty while speaking at the Eggs & Issues meeting.

Station 2 crew members pass the time at their central meeting area. From left to right: Capt. Jordan Ashby (standing), Capt. Chris Berger, firefighter Charles Talley, firefighter Nick Knowlton (in red), firefighter Jacob Posey, engineer Eli Kelley and firefighter Allen Ottman. (Christian Burney/Durango Herald)
Meals are cooked each day in this kitchen for the eight firefighters who are on duty at any given time at Durango Fire Protection District’s Station 2. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

“The building is not sprinkled,” Doughty said. “And interestingly enough, we would not allow any of you to run a business where you have people there overnight without being sprinkled, and our firefighters are asked to sleep in a building that is not protected by a fire protection system.”

Black said emergency fire sprinklers are required in facilities where people are intended to sleep overnight. He said it isn’t a good look when the fire protection district cannot pass its own inspection standards in one of its own facilities.

‘Night and day difference’ between stations 2 and 3
Durango Fire Protection District Deputy Chief Randy Black walks toward the newest firehouse, Fire Station 3, on East 32nd Street (770 County Road 251) in northeast Durango. (Christian Burney/Durango Herald)

Fire chiefs point to Station 3 on East 32nd Street (County Road 251) in north Durango as an example of what a fire station should be. The apparatus bays have ample space for fire trucks to come and go safely while accommodating gear, equipment and tools, such as ladders and fire hoses.

One large bay can comfortably fit three large fire engines. Another smaller bay that the newer portions of the facility were built around can house multiple ambulances and emergency response vehicles, while still allowing ample room to back in and out of the facility in a hurry.

A fire pole from the second story leads to a corridor that branches off to both bays, allowing first responders to quickly reach the first floor and turn into the bay that contains the closest appropriate vehicle for any given call.

The apparatus bay at Station 3 was designed with consideration of the length and height of district fire trucks’ ladders, unlike the bay at Station 2, a facility that was only intended to be a temporary location for fire crews. (Christian Burney/Durango Herald)

The station has sealed thresholds at doors that prevent exhaust from leaking into sleeping quarters or other parts of the facility, protecting crews from exhaust exposure that is common in Station 2.

Crews’ quarters are single-unit rooms so they aren’t forced to share a cramped space with each other on their downtime.

Station 3 cost more than $3 million to design and build, Black said, and over the scope of that project, which took about 12 months to complete once construction began, the fire district learned the longer the project took because of redesigns or changing minds, the more expensive it became year after year. Projected costs for the downtown fire station that Doughty advocated for at Eggs & Issues are around $5 million.

Gear and equipment at Station 3 are stored behind threshold-sealed doors that prevent sunlight or exhaust from contaminating the heavy-duty clothes firefighters wear on calls. (Christian Burney/Durango Herald)

Station 3 serves as a model of what Doughty and Black think a downtown fire station should contain in terms of safety for staff members and accommodation of equipment and vehicles. Doughty said the school property suits the fire district’s need to have a station in the core of downtown Durango.

That section of town receives about 1,600 calls a year, Doughty said, and because of mandates by the fire district’s insurance services, the district is required to have a fire station every 5 miles throughout its entire service area.

“And God’s rules, not mine: After your heart stops for four to eight minutes, your brain stops working and is unrecoverable,” he said. “So from an EMS standpoint we have to have access where we’re going to have the most calls within a four- to eight-minute window or else we can’t do that lifesaving work that we do with our ambulances.”

Within town, there are three major centers of activity the district deals with on a regular basis, including Mercy Regional Medical Center, a nursing home to the north and, of course, the core of downtown Durango.

cburney@durangoherald.com

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