This is not your grandparents’ firehouse!

BY DORIS B. TRUHLAR
GOVERNMENTAL REPORTER

The new firehouse of South Metro Fire Rescue Authority in Arapahoe County is not your grandparents’ firehouse, to say the least. It is not even your parents’ firehouse. It is truly a 21st century facility.

Fire Station No. 32 is located at the southwest corner of East Orchard Road and South Quebec Street, in Centennial.

It was built during about a two-year period of time and was completed earlier this year. The sleek, three-story brick structure is part of a fire district that is comparable to the Denver Fire Department. It serves approximately 540,000 residents in 287 square miles. It includes several cities, Centennial Airport, Denver Tech Center, Inverness and Meridian Park. Cities, towns and counties are Centennial, Greenwood Village, Cherry Hills Village, Lone Tree, Foxfield and unincorporated part of Arapahoe, Jefferson and Douglas counties. It is a huge area.

In the “old days,” firehouses generally had a common sleeping room, where all of the firefighters slept. In this new facility, there are separate bedrooms for each firefighter. The bedrooms are state-of-the art.

The kitchen of the new facility rivals that of a gourmet chef, with every kind of “gadget” and cooking aid imaginable. It is, in a word, gorgeous.

The number of firefighters at some stations is 21, with a crew of seven on at the same time. Some stations have fewer than 21 firefighters. Modern-day fire departments include some female, as well as male, “firemen,” although men still outnumber women. Crews for South Metro are assigned to a 48/96 schedule, which is 48-hour shifts, giving the firefighters four days off between the two workdays.

Something that is the same – and perhaps always will be – is that the firefighters do all their own cooking, taking turns to prepare meals. Their kitchen is not only well-equipped, but they also have everything needed for outdoor meal preparation, including a well-used Traeger smoker and a Weber cooker.

Interestingly, there is a “great disparity in cooking skills,” according to some employees. There are superb cooks, while others “just make hot dogs.” As one firefighter put it, there may be some personnel who are “below average” cooks.

As in the “olden days,” firefighters still shop at local grocery stores for all they need in their kitchen. So when you see uniformed men and women at the Safeway or King Soopers, they are often shopping to buy supplies for their station. When a fire engine is driven out for supplies, the entire crew must be with the truck, in case there is an emergency call to be answered.

Additionally, firefighters at times go out for meals, to such restaurants as Chipolte or Five Guys, less expensive venues. The employees at Station 32, when asked whether there were any vegetarians or vegans employed, laughed, and said there may have been some anti-meat workers when they were hired but “we might have converted them.”

The first women were hired in most fire departments in the mid-1980s, with Cunningham Fire Protection District, which has since become part of South Metro, being the first to hire a woman firefighter in 1986. Mary Sovick was hired starting in the mid-1980s. Castlewood Fire Rescue, now also merged into SMFR, also had quite a few women who were volunteers in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

South Metro is extremely busy. In 2018, it responded to 44,159 calls, with 29,003 of them medical; 1,066 fires; 4,904 responses to alarms; 2,777 categorized as “other”; 6,186 “public assistance”; and 220 “special operations.” Personnel can be assigned to work at other than the station to which they are ordinarily assigned. Fire Chief for the district is Bob Baker. There is a 12-member elected board of directors, currently composed of Hank Eng, Rich Sokol, David Jackson, Danny Gaddy, Laura Simon, Ronda Scholting, William Shriver, Patricia Shaver, Mark Lampert, Debbie Brinkman, Jim Albee and Renee Anderson.

There are roughly 700 employees of SMFR, 29 stations and a headquarters building. The district has several special teams, including aircraft fires and rescue, bicycle medics, drive rescue, hazardous materials, incident management, SWAT medical, technical rescue, urban search and rescue, and wildland fires.

There is a high-technology communications center in the facility. Additionally, there is a beautiful fire mural, which was the handiwork of Ron Allen, a firefighter in the old firehouse. The mural was preserved for this new station. There is, of course, a pole that can be utilized to get out of the station quickly, although the firefighters say it isn’t used that much.

As with all fire stations, there is a traffic light in front of the station that allows engines to stop traffic to answer calls. The engines – which seem to always be shining and clean — are backed into the space when returning from calls. Firefighters must always be ready for an emergency departure. Seconds can make a difference between life and death. The equipment is impressive, including for the entire district a snow cat, 19 ambulances, 22 fire engines, three aircraft firefighting units, 14 brush trucks, two dive boats, a Jet Ski and a mobile command post.

This writer’s visits to the new firehouse left her with the impression that it is the “firehouse of the future,” except it is already a reality in the South Metro District.

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