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Fire Department: Happy to be in new home

AYER — After more than 70 years on Washington Street, the Fire Department has relocated to its new home at the corner of Park and Main streets.

Having endured the lengthy and complicated process that made the new station a reality, building committee Chairman Wellman Parker termed the move satisfying on multiple levels.

“After the better part of three years, (it feels) pretty darn good,” he said. “There’s a lot of satisfaction seeing it come out as nice as it is, but it’s also nice to not be tied up with some portion of the construction.”

Fire Chief Paul Fillebrown, who was an integral part of the Building Committee’s work, expressed similar satisfaction.

“The building came out good,” he said. “This building is going to serve the town for the next 60 to 75 years.”

Using that reckoning, the building figures to be in use as long as the Washington Street location was. By all accounts, it was the age of that facility and growth of the department the necessitated the change.

Originally designed and built for a call Fire Department in the mid-1930s, the Washington Street station was expanded and renovated to cope with larger equipment and an increasingly full-time department over the years.

However, that process had its limitations, explained Lt. firefighter Timothy Taylor. Having been with the department for over 25 years, he said the old station had poor ventilation, which had an effect on the air quality within.

“We used to start the trucks in the station, and when we’d drive out it’d fill the station with diesel fumes,” he said. “Long-term, that stuff isn’t good for you.”

Fillebrown concurred that it was an issue.

“In the upstairs office, you could run your finger down the wall and pick up black,” he said. “There was no exhaust system in the old station to take out the diesel fumes. That was a real health concern. Now all the diesel fumes are captured, filtered and the exhaust goes outside.”

While the garage’s elaborate ventilation system is one air quality control in the station, another is the clear separation between the garage, offices and living areas. In the big picture, firefighter Jeremy Januskiewicz said that theme in many ways differentiates the new station from the old.

“There’s a true separation between work areas and non-work areas,” he said.

The new station cost approximately $7 million, said Fillebrown. It has approximately 15,000 square feet of space, as opposed to 8,000 square feet in the old one.

How that difference plays out for the department is perhaps best illustrated through the use of its day room.

Located just through the front door in the Washington Street building, the day room was the space where firefighters gathered when answering calls. It was also the dispatch station during emergencies and the impromptu cafeteria during meals.

In the new station, there are designated and separate areas for all of those activities. Incidentally, the new day room is substantially larger than the old one.

Another upgrade is with quarters for firefighters serving 24-hour shifts. The old quarters were one large room with several cubicle dividers to provide privacy. The new station has five private dormitory rooms instead.

There are more subtle but significant details as well such as the department having voicemail and a women’s locker room for the first time.

Overall, employees are still settling in after the June 16 move, but Fillebrown said the community-at-large will be invited for a tour shortly.

“We are going to have an open house, maybe the last week in July, so all the taxpayers can come and see what they’ve bought, (and) what they’ve given us,” he said.

In the meantime, citizens in town have given Fillebrown positive feedback on the new facility.

“Last night I had three people stop me,” he said. “They are so happy we’re in the station.”

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