State-of-the-Art Firehouse Finally Set for Debut


(Saturday, March 1, 2008 8:45 AM EST)

After more than four years of construction, Arlington's Fire Station No. 5 in the Aurora Highlands neighborhood is nearly completed, and with a move-in date expected later this month.

“This is a long time in the making,” said Arlington County Board Chairman Walter Tejada at a recent sneak-peak tour of the station.

Construction on the station began in November 2003 and was supposed to be completed by June 2005, but the original contractor was removed due to poor performance. Construction resumed in April 2006 with a different contractor.

“Should it have completed earlier? We all [on the board] wish it had,” Tejada said. “But in Arlington, when we get things done, we want to get them right. The issues in question before have been corrected.”

“I suspect it was worth the wait,” said County Board member Mary Hynes.

The design of the station takes into account the evolving makeup of the fire department.

“The fire department now is totally different from the one our fathers and grandfathers had,” said assistant fire chief John White, who led the tour of the facility.

Because more fire fighters today are women, the station is designed to be more gender-neutral than in the past. The bathrooms aren't gender specific, and instead of locker rooms and multi-bed dorm rooms, each fire fighter on duty has his or her own private space to change and sleep.

“We've eliminated locker rooms and other supporting rooms,” White said. “Each firefighter has his or her own locker and rest room. It's like a small hotel room.”

The personal dorm rooms are outfitted with an alert system that will sound only in the rooms of firefighters whose particular unit is needed, cutting down on waking them up unnecessarily.

“It's gone a long way to reduce stress,” White said.

The new station also is one of three others in the county that have a “safe haven.” The 24-hour “safe haven” lobby is open to members of the public in cases of physical danger. They can enter and press a panic button, which locks the exterior doors and automatically calls Arlington's emergency communications center.

A “green” roof, decontamination suite and diesel exhaust extractor (tubes attached to the back of the fire trucks that filter the diesel exhaust) are other features of the station.

There's even a “21st-century version of your grandfather's fire pole,” White said.

The station will be staffed with 11 members of the department per shift. Between 36-39 firefighters and paramedics will work at the fire station, which is Arlington's busiest (Fire Station No. 5 handled 6,876 calls last year - more than any other station in the county).

The total design and construction costs are about $7 million, funded with Arlington County-issued bonds.

A formal open house for the public will be held April 12.

Assistant Fire Chief John White, County Board Chairman Walter Tejada and Fire Chief James Schwartz at the new fire station.
(Photo by Kristen Armstrong)

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