Sixty years ago, West Palm Beach fire stations couldn’t handle hurricanes.
They didn’t have room for hazmat trucks, water rescue or technical rescue units. They didn’t have gyms.
There were no women on the job, so there were no private dorm rooms, just an open dorm with three beds. Bathrooms were just large rooms with a couple of urinals shower side-by-side.
Those days are changing, with two replacement stations under construction and a third in the planning stages, as the city catches up with growth and obsolescence.
In the past few months, the city broke ground for two new stations — Station 4 in Flamingo Park, at 1718 Parker Ave. and Station 8 near the Ibis Golf and Country Club, at 10965 Northlake Blvd.
The third, Station 9, will replace one set temporarily in a storefront at a Publix shopping center at Roebuck and Haverhill roads. The permanent site has yet to be nailed down but likely will be on vacant land near the water treatment plant just behind the shopping center, Fire Rescue Chief Diana Matty said.
“It’s really an exciting time to be the fire chief now. In my career, I know I’ll never see another couple of stations get opened,” said Matty, who was promoted to chief in May.
It’s the city’s second-biggest department, next to police, with 230 employees and an annual budget of $36 million, serving a city population estimated at 108,000 people, and growing.
“For some of these firefighters, these will be the only stations that open in their careers, because they’re build to such higher standards now and are not disposable properties.”
Matty said she remembers discussions as far back as 1994 about Station 4 needing replacement. It was built for three or four firefighters but the city’s newer stations house six or seven. They had to evacuate the station when hurricanes approached.
Talk of a new station revived in 2008 but the economy’s collapse took the project off the table.
Now shovels are in the ground for the new $5.38 million Station 4, built to resist the toughest Category 5 Hurricanes. The new station will house one engine, one rescue truck and six firefighters.
During construction, the crews are living in a trailer, three blocks away. Their new home should be ready for move-in next fall.
As far back as 2006, then-City Commissioner Jeri Muoio was pushing for fire services near Ibis, in the city’s western reaches, then served by the county’s fire-rescue department, with extended response times because of its remote location. The city later placed a construction trailer at Ibis and had its firefighters work out of that, later moving the trailer across Northlake from the development.
The new station, to cost $5.46 million, will be built to withstand Category 4 hurricanes (not Cat 5’s, because it’s farther from the ocean). The trucks will be housed indoors, at last, and there’ll be enough room to house a police officer and public works staffers when necessary in addition to firefighters.
It is expected to open by August.
Once Station 4 is completed, the trailer its firefighters have been using will be moved to Roebuck Road, to serve the firefighters currently in the Paradise Island shopping center, while their new station is built.
The new Station 9 will also serve as a combined police and fire station and will have training facilities for both. There might be a “skid pad” for police driver training, as well as a fire training tower, something West Palm hasn’t had since the 1990s, Matty said.
Have a West Palm Beach news tip? Contact Staff Writer Tony Doris at email@example.com or 561-820-4703.