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City's 91-year-old downtown Station 1 gets an overhaul 

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click to enlarge Station 1 on Nevada Avenue. - COURTESY CSFD
  • Courtesy CSFD
  • Station 1 on Nevada Avenue.

Three days after Christmas in 1925, Colorado Springs firemen ran their first alarm from Fire Station No. 1 at 29 S. Weber St.

Today, the station, where firefighters squeeze modern apparatus into its two pint-sized bays, is one of the busiest in the city.

But it's a tight fit for all the necessary equipment and staff, and the building's age is a constant source of maintenance headaches, Interim Fire Chief Ted Collas says.

Those problems should go away with a planned addition, for which proposals received May 6 are now being evaluated. The project, one of several funded through the Public Safety Sales Tax approved by voters in 2001, is expected to cost about $2.2 million and get underway this summer. The expanded station is expected to open in 2017.

The Colorado Springs Fire Department dates to December 1872, when roughly 30 citizens organized as the volunteer Colorado Springs Hook and Ladder Company No. 1, even though it didn't have a ladder truck. The name was changed a few months later to the Colorado Springs Fire Company, and in May 1873 the company obtained its first firefighting unit, a "fire extinguisher on wheels," according to a department history on the city website.

Two years later, the department added a hand-drawn, four-wheeled wagon with a half-dozen ladders. Several other volunteer companies were established later until City Council, in 1894, organized a paid department. In 1910 the city obtained its first motorized apparatus, a four-cylinder, 40-horsepower engine that cost about $2,500 and had a top speed of 30 miles per hour.

The first Station 1 sat at 18 S. Nevada Ave. That building, after the new Station 1 was built a block away, became offices for Springs Utilities and now is known as the Gold Room, an event venue tied to the Mining Exchange Hotel.

Over its 91 years, Station 1 has been added onto and improved. "The most recent significant upgrade to it occurred in 2011 when we changed the battalion chief quarters upstairs to allow us to have room to build an adequate women's locker room and showers," Collas says.

A neighboring building served as fire headquarters before the Fire Department Operations Center, 375 Printers Parkway, opened in 2001.

"When I got there in 1994," says former chief Manny Navarro, "my office was in the top floor of that [Station 1's annex]. Actually it wasn't bad, but we didn't have enough room."

click to enlarge Station 1 on Weber Street. - COURTESY CSFD
  • Courtesy CSFD
  • Station 1 on Weber Street.

The new headquarters incorporated the training division, formerly adjacent to Prospect Lake, and the fire prevention unit, housed in leased space on Cascade Avenue, he says.

During Navarro's 14 years in the department, Springs Fire added four stations — 17, 18, 19 and 20, all to the north and northeast.

Two more stations have been added in recent years: Station 21 in the northeast sector at 7320 Dublin Blvd., which opened in August 2013, and Station 22 on the far north side at 711 Copper Center Parkway, which opened in March.

Now the department has turned its attention to the city's core, where Fire Station 1, which hosts a ladder truck and an engine, has inspired much brainstorming over the years on whether to update it, replace it or move it, Collas says.

"Originally, we looked at moving the station," he says. "But with the age of the building, we ran into electrical issues and plumbing issues."

After architects took a close look at renovation, city officials decided to add two new bays with bigger spaces for fire apparatus and overhaul the existing station to meet building codes. "That will effectively do everything we want it to do," Collas says.

The existing bays, barely large enough to hold modern apparatus, will store firefighting equipment such as hoses, hand tools and air packs, as well as reserve apparatus. The old structure will get updated wiring, plumbing, heating, air condition and lighting.

click to enlarge A rendering of the addition. - COURTESY CSFD
  • Courtesy CSFD
  • A rendering of the addition.

From its beginning, Station 1 has been a workhorse, and that hasn't changed. In 2015, Station 1 firefighters answered 4,985 calls, trailing Station 7, at Academy and Palmer Park boulevards, which responded to 5,734 incidents; Station 4, the city's wildland fire station at 2280 Southgate Road, with 5,219, and Station 8, at 3737 Airport Road, with 5,065 calls.

Once the downtown station expands to the north into a city-owned parking lot, it will still house an engine and ladder truck, each with a crew of four, along with a battalion chief, Collas said.

But it will do so with more ease. As Collas notes about the old station's bays, "They're just barely large enough. Since 1925 a lot of things have changed. The apparatus seem every year to get bigger. It maxes it out to put an aerial ladder in there."

The new addition will have drive-through bays, he says, "so those big apparatus aren't going to be stopping traffic and backing in on Weber. That's a big plus for us and the public."

In addition, Collas adds, "It's going to greatly improve the living conditions of our firefighters at one of our busiest stations. We're excited."

The renovated and expanded station will host the community and public health team, CSFD Cares, now based at the headquarters building. The unit monitors 911 calls for repeat callers and tries to address those callers' chronic health problems to reduce the demand for emergency runs.

Looking ahead, Collas says there's no firm timetable for adding a Station 23, which, as other stations have done, will follow population growth.

Colorado Springs' next fire station likely will be built in the vicinity of Banning Lewis Ranch on the city's east side.

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