By Katie Dudlets
The Meridian Times Staff Reporter
OKEMOS — The new Central Fire Station located at the corner of Okemos Road and Central Park Drive comes in a larger context of infrastructure redevelopment for Meridian Township. It has been fully-operational and providing emergency services since January.
Fire Chief Fred Cowper believes this move from the antiquated station on Clinton Street to the new one was entirely necessary.
“The [Clinton Street] fire station that we closed was built in 1957, and in 1957 there weren’t females in the fire service in our country,” said Cowper. “So it lacked separate bathrooms, showers and dormitories. It also did not have a backup generator, so when the power would go out, we’d have to move out of the station to a different station which was quite problematic.”
It was especially important considering that now five out of the 40 members, or 12.5 percent, are female in the department.
According to Meridian’s website, in 2012 just over 58 percent of voters approved a $3.5 million millage to build this new station. It ended up costing $3.44 million and replaces the Clinton Street station that closed in February 2013 as a result of its deterioration.
Cowper said the replacement of the old station keeps the number of stations in Meridian at three, which according to NFPA’s U.S. Fire Department Profile 2014, is the number of stations for 27.6 percent of all the fire departments in the US that protect a population between 25,000 and 29,999.
The new station is now the biggest in the township to allow for multiple branches of the department to work together in the same building.
“This building houses both suppression (the people who do the emergency calls, the ambulance and firetrucks) and administration (fire chief, fire instructor, administrative assistant),” said Cowper. “Prior to this station being built, the administration was in the police station. So we’ve been able to move and to be under the same roof again and that has provided a much more efficient form of communicating with our staff.”
Although the department will communicate more efficiently, Cowper said the station’s response times to emergency calls will remain the same at under five minutes.
Listed in the new station’s fact sheet, the amenities of the new building include three bays, four administrative offices and a clerical office, a community training room, a kitchen and dining room, laundry, utility and EMS storage rooms, a conference room and separate facilities for males and females.
While the building itself is new, there has not been an addition of firefighters, firetrucks or ambulances to the department as a result, and the department’s annual budget will remain what it was before, according to Cowper.
For local resident Ken Clemens who lives in the subdivision across the street, the new station, while aesthetically pleasing, is just background noise.
“It’s like living next to railroad tracks; you get used to it,” said Clemens.
Clemens was unaware of the vote for the new station in 2012 and said he had not known what was being built at the start of construction, but when told the issues with the old station agreed that it was a needed improvement.
Igor Vojnovic, associate professor at Michigan State University’s College of Social Science said that the new station comes in the larger context of redevelopment for Meridian Township.
“There’s investment being made when there’s development,” said Vojnovic. “There’s a wider image that’s being seen with all the redevelopment being made in Meridian, so it is a part of the bigger picture.”
Vojnovic said the community support for the building was well-placed as infrastructure is deteriorating all over the state and this contrast is both a good investment and something beneficial for the community at large.
“Fire protection is something very basic and necessary,” said Vojnovic. “It’s recognizing that you need basic provision of something like fire protection in the community.”
Cowper said the Central Fire Station is not only an improvement for the fire department, but for the people of Meridian as well.
“There’s a lot of pride in this station,” said Cowper. “I think just for the community it’s a cornerstone. It’s a very attractive building. It’s something for all of us, something for the residents to look at, something that’s going to better serve them.”