Community dedicates new fire station
WORTHINGTON -- Worthington's new fire station made its grand debut Saturday to rave reviews from current and former firefighters and the general public.
The festivities included tours, demonstrations, a magic show and a meal of pork sandwiches, but began much more solemnly, with a Masonic Cornerstone Ceremony conducted by local and state representatives of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota Ancient Free and Accepted Masons.
The ceremony featured a Masonic procession, led by a bagpiper, and the anointing of the building's cornerstone with grain, wine and oil as part of a ritualistic blessing.
Worthington Fire Chief Rick von Holdt explained that he had witnessed such a ceremony at another building dedication and thought it would be a fitting way to mark the grand opening of the city's new firefighting facility. Von Holdt also acknowledged the work of the city council and committee members who mapped out the specific needs of the building.
"Citizens of Worthington, this is your fire hall," emphasized Mayor Alan Oberloh in his brief remarks, also recognizing the planning and foresight that went into getting the project done. "This was built with some of the proceeds from the sale of the hospital, and without the support of this city council and former council members, it wouldn't have happened."
The new fire station is built on ground that "was a blighted area of town after Campbell's left," noted Oberloh, referring to the closing of the former Campbell Soup plant that once occupied the site.
"We see these little children sitting here in front, and know that this fire hall will continue to serve this city long after we're gone," he said.
Some of the former and current firefighters marveled at the state-of-the-art qualities of the facility and how it would change the fire department's capabilities. Former fire chief Chip Peters was especially pleased to see the completion of the long-anticipated project.
"I knew someday it would happen," he said. "I think it was in the '90s we started talking about this," he said, citing "lots of doors, more height and deeper bays" as some of the building's best assets. "The trucks only get bigger."
From all the Worthington firefighters, the consensus was that the project had been long overdue. For many who serve on the department, Saturday was their first look at the new station in its close-to-completed state.
"The last time we saw it, it was a lot more raw than it is now," said current fire department member Chad Nixon. "Just the room it has is wonderful. That was where the need was more than anything. In the old station we had to crawl through the ladder truck in order to fill our air tanks after we were done fighting a fire."
Besides being deficient in space, the former station had some other issues.
"I can remember putting garbage pails in the old sleeping room because water was pouring in when it rained," remembered retired firefighter Kevin Flynn, a detective with the Worthington Police Department who served on the fire station planning committee.
"It's just about enough to make you get back in line" for firefighting duty, added Flynn. "But when my pager would go off at 2 in the morning and it's 10 below outside... my enthusiasm would wane."
During the planning phase of the project, Flynn and Worthington Director of Public Safety Mike Cumiskey toured a number of firefighting facilities in the Twin Cities area and came back with ideas that were incorporated into the design. The new station will also serve as a satellite facility for the local police force, which is headquartered at the Prairie Justice Center north of town.
"That will be one of the biggest benefits for us," said Cumiskey. "Now, if somebody needs to, they can meet an officer down here, or in a weather emergency we can stay close here in town."
While the fire station has been officially feted, it isn't quite open for business yet.
"We still have a couple weeks before we can take residency," said von Holdt. "We're still waiting on a few things -- the punch list got done yesterday. The project manager and architect were down here for six hours, picking the building apart. We've got some training next week for some of the systems, since it's all run by computer."
But von Holdt and the rest of the Worthington firefighting crew anxiously await the day when all their equipment will be in place and organized and they can respond to their community's emergency needs to the best of their abilities.
"I'm looking forward to having everything done so we can actually have our vehicles in here and can sit down in the classroom, talk about it and take a breath," said von Holdt.