LFD staff move into new Fire Station 31

Lebanon Fire District Fire Chief Joseph Rodondi stands in front of the new Station 31 building facing Oak Street. Photos by Sarah Brown

Some four years after voters approved a bond, three years after staff moved out of Fire Station 31, and one year after the Lebanon Fire District broke ground for a new building, fire staff are now reaping the rewards of the long-anticipated new facility on Oak Street.

“It has been a long road,” Fire Chief Joseph Rodondi said. “It has been an exciting road. We’re very happy to have this under our belt and move in and serve the community.”

Administration and firefighters began moving into the new station on Feb. 22 after phase one neared completion. Phase two will begin shortly, which will involve tearing down the old workshop, building a training tower and installing a parking lot. The entire project is expected to be complete in the next couple of months, and Rodondi hopes to host a grand opening this summer.

“We’re very excited to showcase this to our community,” he said. “It’s something everybody can be proud of.”

“I’ve been looking forward to this place for years,” Lieutenant Jason Adamson said.

Standing inside one of the two apparatus bays, Chief Rodondi explains that the primary response vehicles will exit out onto Oak Street.

Some Station 31 firefighters were relocated to other stations, while others lived in forest service trailers on-site during construction; administration staff worked out of the MBVA building downtown. The new 25,000-square-foot building replaces a 50-year-old, 20,000-square-foot building.

It includes two apparatus bays separated by storage and decontamination rooms, sleeping quarters next to one of the bays, a board and training room, administrative conference room, open kitchen and living space for firefighters, and even space to display historical artifacts.

The nine sleeping quarters are nicknamed with firefighting slang such as Tank to Pump Frank, Hose Dragger, Dragon Slayer and Pike, and they are set right next to the apparatus bay for quick access.

“They wake up and they will come down the hallway right to the apparatus room, so it’s a streamline shot, which we didn’t have before,” Rodondi said.

A feature in the living quarters kitchen includes a table made from reclaimed cedar siding from the former building, made by Battalion Chief Ken Savage, retired firefighter Jon Davis and Josh Fair (whose dad is a retired fire marshall from the district). An antique fire engine restored by division chiefs John Tacy and Mark Fitzwater will be on display in the entryway foyer.

During a sneak-peek tour, Rodondi expressed particular appreciation for the conference room.

“We’re always competing for space for training because of the training requirements of firefighters,” he said. “Pretty much every day they’re here doing some type of training, so having a conference room for the management team will be wonderful.”

Chief Rondondi stands in the foyer area where workers can be seen building a patio area out front.

Other highlights of the new building include furniture made through the Oregon prison system, a spacious crossfit gym and a sizable copy room for staff. The apparatus bays, featuring glass doors, are spacious enough to allow the primary response team to pull directly onto Oak Street, and other vehicles to pull out from the back of the station onto 12th Street.

“If you come by here at night when you drive down Oak, this is lit up,” Rodondi said of the new station. “It’s a beautiful, beautiful facility. We’re very grateful the taxpayers passed the bond in 2019.”

The former station on Oak Street was built in 1975 and, after some renovations throughout the following years, former fire chief Gordon Sletmoe determined in 2019 the building needed a major upgrade. That’s because the building was not prepared to handle an earthquake, should it happen.

“I hesitate to say it, but it’s true; we don’t meet fire code in this fire station,” Sletmoe said in 2019.

Additionally, some of the sleeping quarters did not have windows, sprinklers or smoke alarms, nor was there any effective system to remove diesel exhaust from the apparatus bays. Exhaust fumes are a known carcinogen, and rates of cancer among firefighters are some of the highest in the nation. Furthermore, the location of some firefighter sleeping quarters were on the opposite end of the building from the apparatus bay where the fire engines and ambulances were, which ultimately delayed response times to emergencies.

“It was a bit of a maze,” LFD Engineer Jason Caroll said about the former living quarters, noting it actually made it take a little longer for them to respond to emergencies.

A fiery haze settles over the former 50-year-old LFD Station 31. Provided photo

As Sletmoe looked at costs to upgrade the existing building, it became apparent it was more cost-effective to tear it down and start from scratch.

“We’ve outgrown this station. We have trucks and people wedged into every nook and cranny in this station, and it’s just too small,” Sletmoe said in 2019. “This fire station has served the Lebanon Fire District, the citizens of Lebanon and the surrounding area really well, but if you look around you can tell it’s been used.

Voters approved the 26-year $16 million bond that year. It was also earmarked to replace aging fire engines, two wildland firefighting trucks and other fire fighting equipment. The estimated tax rate was 34 cents per $1,000 of property valuation, or $68 per year on a $200,000 assessed value home. It replaced a 2006 bond that was set at 20 cents per $1,000, or $40 per year on a $200,000 home. The 2006 bond paid for fire stations at Cheadle Lake and Berlin Road, and emergency apparatuses.

Just a couple months after the new bond passed, Joseph Rodondi replaced Sletmoe, who retired, and then the worldwide pandemic set in. It wasn’t until February 2021 that staff moved off the Oak Street property, but construction plans halted due to skyrocketing inflation. Fire Station 31 was decommissioned in September 2022 and construction crews began tearing down the original building a month later. Project leaders broke ground for the new construction in February 2023.

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

Building the new Station 31 took longer than expected due to higher-than-anticipated construction costs post-COVID. LFD leaders worked on “value engineering” concepts to redesign the facility.

“We’ve been very respectful of taxpayer dollars and making sure that we met our word to the community of what we said we would do,” Rodondi said. “We’ve been true to that word, and part of that was delaying the project and making sure that we met the needs of the community that we told them we were going to meet and do it within the dollars we need.”

LFD also recently purchased two new ambulances paid for out of the standard annual operating budget, and a 2020 Wildland Initiative will help the station get a grant for a Type 6 Wildland apparatus

“Our old station served us well for a long time, but it was time for a new one,” Caroll said. “It’s gonna really help us operate better and respond quicker.”

A rendering of the new station shows the internal layout. Oak Street runs along the top of the image in a left-to-right direction.