Article by The Lawton Constitution
Lawton's public safety personnel say it's years past time to upgrade facilities that can't meet the technology needs of today's police and fire departments.
Not to mention that those facilities are falling apart at the seams.
The sales tax extension has $68.63 million designated for public safety, including $39.1 million related to construction: a new police, fire and municipal court complex (and demolition of the old police station/jail) and a project to either expand or rebuild Central Fire Station while completing construction on a new fire station in southwest Lawton.
Fire Chief Dewayne Burk said consideration of Central Fire Station (Lawton's first fire station, with a designation of Station No. 1) is a must, given the building is 84 years old and dates to a time when firefighters responding to calls had to hitch up the horses first. Today's ladder truck is 98 inches wide; in the building's heyday, fire apparatus were the width of a Volkswagen.
From a practical point of view, that means the driver moving the ladder truck into or out of Central's bay doors must center the truck so that its mirrors clear the doorway by less than a foot on each side. On top, the fit is tighter: The highest point of the ladder truck leaves a hand's width of space between the truck and doorway. Burk said in winter firefighters have no choice but to clear any accumulation of snow or ice in front of the station.
"Otherwise, we can't get out," he said, explaining that even 1.5 inches of accumulated ice shuts down the station and adding that today's apparatus "truly dwarf what used to go out of here."
Other structural problems are beginning to surface. Voids have appeared under the station's concrete floor (blame drought) and the floor is cracking and sinking; a metal plate covers a depression in the crumbling concrete where the front wheel of the ladder truck sits when it is inside the building. The building isn't ADA compliant: The only access to upper floors comes via a steep staircase, original to the building.
More pressing is the building's lack of accommodations for technology. In an era where computers are crucial, Central would need extensive renovations to provide any more electrical and data lines for the equipment necessary to run a modern fire department. In a bit of irony, today's IT room was the shower in the apartment that was home to the department's first chief and his wife.
"We've got old, antiquated wiring and circuitry," Burk said, noting the department already is working around those shortfalls to keep records on things such as fire runs, which total 10,000 a year.
Burk said there also are more mundane concerns mundane only if you don't have to live in the building in 24-hour shifts. The building's plumbing dates to the 1930s. It is cooled by window units and the windows they sit in aren't as energy efficient as they could be. And for the department's first female firefighter, accommodations are scarce in a building already overpacked with personnel who use their down time to remodel existing facilities to meet their needs.
While the problems are obvious, solutions still are being studied.
Burk said the city has begun a needs assessment to determine exactly what they want to do with Central Fire Station. One option could be to purchase property immediately east of the station, then build a new facility on a corner lot large enough to accommodate a pull-through bay for apparatus (apparatus bays account for two-thirds of the station's space).
Extensive renovation of Central Fire Station to allow it to modernize also is an option that will be explored. But the existing Central still is too small to fully meet Lawton Fire Department's needs. The building has 10,000 square feet of space, "when what we need is 14,000 to 16,000 square feet," Burk said. The lack of space reflects the station's multiple needs.
Central houses 16-18 people each day, which includes three fire crews and the department's administrative staff. Staffing brings about another issue: There is little space for private vehicles in front of the downtown Lawton building, meaning firefighters park their cars on the empty lot on the west side of the building or along the side street. There also isn't sufficient space to fully house all of the apparatus needed.
In fact, citywide, the fire department has trouble finding storage space.
"We're full. We're over-full," Burk said.
That's the rationale for building the new fire station bigger than it needs to be. Station No. 8, to be located on Bishop Road east of Southwest 67th Street, will be four bays, but Burk said the intent is to use two of those bays for apparatus storage space. An estimated $2 million in the proposed sales tax program will help complete Station No. 8, the first station to be built at a new location in more than 30 years.
Burk said funding designated in the 2012 Capital Improvements Program for construction didn't have enough for site acquisition and, because the best location for the new station was a site without road, water and sewer access, that infrastructure must be built. The majority of the construction cost will be funded from the 2012 CIP, which also includes money for work at Central Fire Station.