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Audubon seeks new fire hall

Audubon fire chief Darcy Savig shows how tight the quarters are inside the existing fire hall, as trucks are squeezed into an area far too small to safely accomodate the equipment and firefighters as they scramble to help emergency situations throughout the lakes region. PAULA QUAM/DL NEWSPAPERS

Toss a handful of marbles on the floor of the Audubon Fire Hall, and you’ll see them all go in one direction.

“They’d go to the corner over there where the foundation is sinking,” said Jason Leucuta, one of the township’s volunteer fire fighters.

The days have come where Audubon’s old fire hall meant to help in a time of need has itself become a big problem.

The deficiencies

The building has a variety of ages, depending on which addition you’re standing in, but most of it is between 50 to 60 years old. 

“We physically cannot add on, rebuild foundations, roofs, siding … the guy who gives us our permits here in town will no longer allow us to rebuild because he thinks it’s shot,” said Leucuta, adding that their insurance company has also flagged it and it’s barely insurable for much longer, “We think it’s shot, too.”

The fire hall that’s stood in the center of town for decades has more than a few structural issues. It has mold. It’s leaky and inefficient to heat.  And most of all…

“It’s way too tight where the trucks and equipment are,” said Leucuta.

There are eight fire trucks, as well as the EMS vehicle shoved into a garage so small, it’s difficult to open up any of the vehicle doors without hitting the truck next to it.  There are only four garage doors that all those engines are supposed to race out of, which means when the calls come in for help, it’s a crowded cluster.

“It’s a mess back there,” said Leucuta, “guys are trying to get all their gear on in a three foot, two foot area, and we have to move trucks in order to get the ones next to it out the door.”

That means response time suffers, and when it comes to emergencies, “Every minute counts,” said Leucuta.

And firefighters don’t just fight fires anymore.

“We’ll go out to houses to do carbon monoxide checks, ice water rescue, we’ve got the jaws of life for car accidents,” said Darcy Savig, who has been the Audubon fire chief for 13 of his 23 years with the department.

He says they’ve got over a million dollars’ worth of top-notch equipment and a team of 22 well-trained firefighters that sit right in the middle of lakes country, and because of this they are not just called out for emergencies in their own township, but are often wanted in surrounding communities as well.

But as the department has gained man-power and abilities over the years, the infrastructure meant to house it all has continued to deteriorate.

It’s not a surprise; they’ve all known for years something would have to be done.

The proposal

“Now’s the time,” said Leucuta, pointing out a drawing on the wall of a new fire hall that the firefighters are hoping will be theirs by next year.

The proposed building would be 12,000 square feet, which is larger than the one that would be demolished.

The current hall is hooked on to a small community center that would also be torn down.

“It’s just as bad,” said Leucuta, who says it rarely gets used by the public and is also crumbling.

The new, proposed fire hall would have a meeting room and enough garage bays for each truck.

As long as the soil samples taken on the site come back acceptable, the plan would be to rebuild on the current site with the new building sprawling more to the west.

The cost

The department is asking township residents to help foot the bill for the new hall, estimated to cost roughly $800,000.

Because firefighters, emergency responders and their community allies have been busy fundraising, they are prepared to kick in nearly 20 percent of that with approximately $170,000.

They are also working with some non-profit groups in the area to continue that fundraising effort in order to lessen the cost to taxpayers.

Help from residents would come in the form of a building bond, which would cost township residents not living in the town of Audubon an estimated $132 per year for a $100,000 home or property.

“It’s so minimal,” said Leucuta, who is also a city councilman in Audubon.

He says there are a few ways to go about getting the bond.

One includes a vote of township residents, another is simply for the city to implement the bond by citing fire contracts and a necessity without consulting the public, or the third option that is somewhere in the middle.

“The way we’re leaning towards would be to work with members of the township board over the next 60 days to see if we can get it passed that way, unless there is five percent of the residents coming with a petition against it,” said Leucuta, who says they hope to make the hall a community project.

“It wouldn’t just be a fire hall, but it would also be an emergency center,” said Savig.

“We would have a generator so that in the event of a tornado, a wind storm, a flood … we are still able to operate out of here.”

And although the department doesn’t feel the pressure to begin building tomorrow, they do know the time is right to make it happen soon, with low interest rates and a high need.

Although just like most volunteer fire departments, Audubon is always looking for a few more volunteers, theirs has remained strong and incredibly active as they have thus far been able to sustain themselves.

That million-dollar inventory of equipment has been paid for through spaghetti feeds, street dances, 5-K’s and firefighters who spend their Friday and Saturday nights running bingo and pull tabs.

“We haven’t had to ask for a dime for any of it,” said Leucuta, who, like his fellow firefighters, also never receives a dime for his time.

“I just enjoy helping people,” said Savig, “Waking up at 2 or 3 in the morning to go out and help, that’s what’s in my heart.”

“Sometimes it’s a car accident; sometimes it’s a full blown fire with people inside,” said Leucuta, “and whether it’s 6 in the afternoon or 2 in the morning, our guys are out there putting in their time, their resources, their muscle, trying to save lives.”