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Community Tours New Fire Station

Board members and fire staff uncouple a red fire house as a sort of ribbon cutting ceremony for the new fire station. From left, they are Wyatt King, Allen Forster, Dale White, Duane Tyler, Joseph Rodondi, John Tacy, Mark Fitzwater, Desiree Barker, Ken Savage and Blaine Suing. Behind Barker is Ken Foster and Brett Kibble. Photos by Sarah Brown

In lieu of a ceremonial red ribbon cutting during the Lebanon Fire District’s new Station 31 open house on June 15, fire staff performed the uncoupling of a red fire hose.

The front of the station was surrounded by staff, government leaders and a curious community who were all there to show support for the fire district and tour the new 25,000 square foot station.

 

People gather around the entrance to the newly rebuilt fire station on Oak and 12th streets as Fire Chief Joseph Rodondi, far left, welcomes everyone.

Tours rotated in groups, viewing the many features of the crews’ new home. Children were seen wearing plastic fire helmets and eating cookies – one of whom seemed to only prefer scraping the icing off the top – while fire district staff highlighted items of interest, such as a dining table made from reclaimed cedar siding from the former station building by Battalion Chief Ken Savage, retired firefighter Jon Davis and Josh Fair (whose dad is a retired fire marshall from the district).

Groups saw the new Ted Fitzwater Memorial Training Tower and Jim Anglin Workout Facility, two large apparatus bays, curiously-named sleeping quarters and large meeting room. They also had opportunity to sign a guest book that will be placed in a time capsule to be opened in a century or so.

 

Project leaders, the LFD Board of Directors and Fire Chief Joseph Rodondi break ground for the new Station 31 on Feb. 14, 2022. Courtesy of LFD

Lebanon Fire District broke ground on the new facility in 2022 after maneuvering through soaring pandemic-influenced construction costs.

Fire Chief Joseph Rodondi, prior to opening the building for viewing, gave recognition to fire staff, the district board, government leaders, construction project managers, and all those who served the fire district in the past. He presented a signed fire helmet to Mark Mask, a superintendent for Emerick Construction.

Fire District Board Vice President Dale White presented a wooden “weight room” sign to Cheryll Anglin, widow of Jim Anglin. The sign, he explained, used to hang in the former building’s makeshift workout room, but the new workout room will have a plaque honoring the man.

 

Dale White, left, talks to former firefighter Jim Anglin’s widow, Cheryll, at left, after handing her a memento from the former firehouse.

“(Jim) was really the person who spearheaded having a workout area and worked on our physical fitness program,” White said.

Division Chief of Operations John Tacy dedicated the new training tower to Ted Fitzwater who, he said, was “instrumental” in not only encouraging further training, but also getting the first training tower erected at the site.

Chief Rodondi welcomed the crowd and thanked the community for supporting the construction of a new Station 31.

Guests enter the new Ted Fitzwater Memorial Training Tower.

“Some of the things we heard when we did our community outreach was we wanted a building that was a gateway to the community off Oak Street into a wonderful downtown, and we wanted one that celebrated the history of our timber industry,” he said.

Those elements, he noted, can be seen in the timber-decked beams.

“That’s what it’s about; it’s about celebrating our history,” Chief Rodondi said.

Lebanon Engine Company No. 1 was established as a private organization on March 15, 1884, and on May 1 of that same year, the newly formed fire department purchased a fire bell out of Philadelphia for $51.25.

That same bell now sits as an historical marker outside the new station, connecting the origins of the department with the present 140 years later.

A haze settles over the former 50-year-old LFD Station 31. Courtesy of LFD

It was White who reflected back to the grand opening of the former building in 1975 and the years since that time as the city grew around the fire station, located at the corner of Oak and 12th streets.

Looking at the new station being celebrated this day, he said beyond the beauty of the wood and glass he could see “the trust and the faith that the city had invested in the fire department when they voted to go ahead and build the (new) station.”

It was a similar trust and faith from the community that helped establish the fire department as its own district, removing the organization from the constraints of a declining city budget in the 1980s.

Fire Chief Larry Arnold shares stories about his time at the Lebanon Fire Department while current Chief Joseph Rodondi stands in the background.

Former Fire Chief Larry Arnold (1984-1999) shared his story about how he started with the fire department in 1967 as an ambulance driver after emergency medical services became a part of the department, and how they began with no training or proper supplies.

The first medic box, in fact, was a child’s lunch pail packed with gauze, cloth tape and scissors, he said.

“And we had the same kind of calls that you have now, people really hurt, needing help,” Arnold said.

As Arnold moved up the ranks and eventually into the role of chief, he was urged to form a fire district and ambulance subscription service, but it wasn’t until the mid-1980s when the move to do so became urgent.

After he became chief, the city manager informed Arnold the department was going to lose about half its funding. Arnold thus sent himself to figuring out how to form the department’s own district and, according to his recollection, voters approved the Lebanon Fire District in 1986 with 72% approval from the rural community and 80% approval from the city.

A firefighter hands stickers to children during the LFD Station 31 open house on June 15.

The new station today replaces a 20,000 square foot building that was in various ways deemed inefficient, unsafe and too small. Former Chief Gordon Sletmoe in 2019 determined it was more cost effective to build a new station rather than upgrade the current one at the time. Voters agreed, approving a 26-year $16 million bond that same year, and current Chief Rodondi took over as Sletmoe moved into retirement.

“It took five years to complete, and for many that was a long time,” Chief Rodondi said. “For me, I thought I was the fire chief that wasn’t going to get it done because when I unpacked my bag in 2019, COVID happened in early 2020 and we immediately saw a spike in construction costs and material delays.”

As such, the district staff “pivoted” to “value engineer” the new build, reducing the new station from two stories to one while still providing sufficient space for all its needs.

“I am grateful to all of you that are here today, all the community members that trusted us to pass the capital improvement bond in 2019, replacing the existing station that opened in 1975, 49 years ago,” Chief Rodondi said.