The horses that once pulled fire apparatus out of Lawrence’s original Fire Station No. 2 are long gone, as are countless other emergency response practices from that era.
But at least one piece of equipment in the 1932 building has stood the test of time: the fire pole.
That pole is now back in action.
After more than a decade as administrative offices, Lawrence’s oldest standing fire station, at 1839 Massachusetts St., is once again home to an active emergency crew.
Medic 1 — comprising an ambulance, its crew and a backup ambulance — moved into the station in August and is expected to stay up to a year, while Fire Station No. 1 at 746 Kentucky St. undergoes a major renovation. Engine 1 — the Kentucky Street fire truck and crew — is being housed in a small temporary building near the station for the duration of the renovation.
Today’s large fire trucks wouldn’t fit inside the garage of the old brick building, but ambulances do.
Fire Chief Mark Bradford said the modern crews seem to appreciate the history and nostalgia of the old brick station.
“To be in the same building that Lawrence firefighters were in back in the ’30s is pretty remarkable,” Bradford said.
“It does get the job done.”
The last fire trucks vacated the old station in the 1960s, Bradford said. After that it was used many years by the county ambulance service, until that service merged with the fire department in the late 1990s.
Bradford said shift commanders used the building until 2006, and since then it has been used for the department’s investigations unit, including its offices and vehicles.
Preparations for the ambulance crew to move into the 1932 building included renovating an apartment with a full kitchen, bathroom and private bedrooms on the second story of the building. Crews work 24-hour shifts, prepare their meals there and try to sleep during nighttime hours as they’re able between calls, Bradford said.
Nostalgic touches to the apartment’s decor include framed historic photos of the station through the years, including one picturing a horse-drawn fire wagon out front.
In the main room — at the front of the building, with windows overlooking Massachusetts Street — the original wood flooring has a squarish-shaped scar where one of the building’s two original fire poles was removed.
The second pole remains, however, albeit a newer chrome version instead of the original brass.
Crews sliding down from the second story land at the back of the garage, right next to their ambulance, in a matter of seconds.
Bradford said the only other Lawrence fire station that has a fire pole is the 1950s-era Fire Station No. 1 on Kentucky Street.
Not only will that pole stay, the renovations will add two more, Bradford said.
Turns out, when it comes to response times, newfangled station designs don’t seem to be as efficient as the old two-story stations with fire poles.
“We do see a significant difference in turnout time,” Bradford said. “We find that that’s extremely difficult to do with how we’ve constructed our ranch-style stations.”
When Fire Station No. 1 is renovated and the Medic 1 unit moves back there, what will become of the emergency responder-ready apartment in old Fire Station No. 2?
Bradford said there’s not currently a set plan. However, he said, downtown is the city’s busiest jurisdiction, and there’s a “strong possibility” the area would need an additional ambulance unit in the future.
“We may very well run it out of here,” he said.
Kentucky Street fire station renovation underway
A project to renovate Fire Station No. 1 at 746 Kentucky St., originally built in the 1950s, is underway.
Fire Chief Mark Bradford said the goal is to bid the main portion of the project this fall and begin construction before the end of the year. It’s estimated to take eight months to a year.
“It will be gutted,” Bradford said. “It’s going to be a complete redo.”
Abatement work has been done, he said. Preparing temporary homes for the ambulance and fire truck units based at Station No. 1 also is done, and crews moved into those homes in August. Medic 1 is at the original Fire Station No. 2 at 19th and Massachusetts streets, and Truck 1 is in a temporary structure near the Kentucky Street station.
Highlights of the plan for Fire Station No. 1 include:
• Converting dorm-style bedrooms to private rooms. Bradford said that’s primarily to ensure privacy for firefighters of different genders and also because private rooms are the modern standard.
• Increasing sleeping space. There will be a total of 10 private rooms — enough for the six firefighter-medics on duty at any given time, plus additional rooms for the possibility of adding another fire engine and crew in the future.
“We’re building for a little bit of growth,” Bradford said.
• Adding two more fire poles to the existing one, for a total of three.
• Making the building ADA-compliant.
The entire project is budgeted at $7 million, Bradford said.
He said the renovation was the last item on a to-do list in the city’s 2009 fire station study, but had been pushed back multiple times.
The building also is home to the Douglas County Senior Resource Center, which also has moved to a temporary location at 2920 Haskell Ave. while renovations to its portion of the building are completed.