Cloquet Area Fire District is getting its wish for a new fire station.
The idea began in 2014 with the master plan study. No surprise to CAFD, as they had outgrown the current station.
Then, to the surprise of many, in 2015 Jarden Home Brands offered to donate 13.2 of their 38 acres of land to the fire department to build a new station.
The land acquisition was delayed when Jardan merged with Rubbermaid in the spring of 2016. In October, after the two business finalized merging, the process was again able to move forward.
CAFD officials looked at seven other land options in 2016, but at the end of the day, the donated property was best suited for their needs.
The land is buildable, has enough room to expand at a later date if needed, the location is central and the new building will take care of all of CAFD’s space issues. The location also has “awesome” access in all directions, according to Chief Kevin Schroeder.
“We need to maintain a four-minute or less response to the downtown area and all of the industries,” Schroeder said.
Schroeder said the final signatures on the property sale should be written early this year. The only cost to CAFD for the land will be closing costs.
“Jarden has been fantastic to make this opportunity available to us,” Schroeder said.
Training is currently done at Station 2 in Scanlon because there isn't enough space at Station 1 on Cloquet Avenue. There have been times training has been in session at Scanlon when a call came in. Firefighters have had to drive back to Station 1 to get the proper equipment before they could respond to the call.
“It would be time saving to have everything on site,” Schroeder admitted. “The building we are working in is outdated and outsized.”
The Station 1 building was built in 1967 and remodeled in 1990 when CAFD moved in.
“When we moved in, it was already full,” Schroeder said.
Equipment is currently stored between two fire stations and three storage buildings. The Perch Lake station was built in 1986 and functions well. The Scanlon station is a renovated school building. CAFD rents space at the Scanlon station for their office, equipment and two tanker trucks.
One of the storage buildings for equipment is located on the Barnum fairgrounds.
“We do not have ability to move equipment around to meet our needs,” Schroeder said.
The longtime firefighter smiled at the thought of the space and functional utilities the new station will provide.
“There is no way to expand in our current location,” Schroeder said, noting that Station 1 is packed so tightly that they cannot pull the stretcher out of the ambulance inside the building when they clean the vehicle after a run. They need to either clean the ambulance outside the building or have it half out of the building.
The number of ambulances a department has is based on the call volume.
Vehicles are now bigger and CAFD has four ambulances due to the uptick in call volume over the years, Schroeder said.
In 2009 there were about 1,800 calls. In 2016, CAFD received 3,000 emergency calls and 43 calls in the 60 hours prior to this interview.
CAFD generally receives eight or nine calls a day, with traumatic injuries the most common, followed by illness. The third most common reason for a call is cardiac issues.
Schroeder credits the high call volume to living in an industrial town with an aging population.
Another issue that CAFD deals with more often these days is drugs and behavior/psychological calls. According to Schroeder, the numbers increased when the state closed clinics. With the lack of facilities qualified to deal with behavior issues, CAFD has more long distance transfers to the Twin Cities or even as far away as Fargo, N.D.
The new station is only in the concept stages now. Once they have the formal design drawn up, they will have a better idea of cost to build the new facility and how much of a tax levy increase there will be.
Schroeder said the estimate for a new facility is ballparked at $10 million, give or take a couple million, which could add $50-60 to the taxes of the average-value home. The building would be approximately 14,000 square feet bigger than the current Cloquet facility.
The fire district has $200,000 in its building fund to go towards the design phase before they go to the public with the plan. Once there is an actual formal design plan drawn up, CAFD can begin applying for grants and monies to help fund the project. Schroeder has been remarkably successful with grant applications in the past, so there’s hope.
“We plan to start hands-on work in the next few weeks to determine the extent and depth of the slate and rock on the site,” Schroeder said. “We need to have information to begin designing the building for foundation and footings.”
It will likely take a full year to design a new station and another full year to construct it.
“We hope to have a project ready to go public with specific designs and costs by late 2017 or early 2018,” Schroeder said, adding that they won’t even have a true idea of costs until they get into the design phase later this year. “But we’re months away from knowing where we’re at. We’re still trying to get title to the land, and nothing can occur until that happens.”
The fire chief noted that the city of Cloquet would like CAFD out of the Station 1 building by the end of 2019, because they want to renovate and expand the police station, which shares the site.
The land location puts CAFD in the area where there’s highest service demand. The utilities are nearby, there are no wetland issues and CAFD is ready to dig in and get the project moving ahead.
“Sappi has been working on some different options with us, their insurance company and their plants loves the fact that we are literally there,” Schroeder said. “The industrial areas - as far as firewise - are one of our core customers. We respond a lot to the Sappi area; we are down there an average of 50-100 times a year.
“We couldn't have picked a better spot if we had tried,” he added.