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Alton fire trucks left out in the rain

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The old Alton Fire Department building next to City Hall has a leaky roof, small garage doors, security problems and lack of space. City leaders hope to replace station with a new building large enough to house all four emergency vehicles and firefighting equipment.
Alton Fire Chief Eddie Johnson said his department can't afford to buy his hardworking volunteer firefighters T-shirts, let alone build a new fire station.

Yet, that is exactly what's needed, he said.

Johnson said the old building next to Alton City Hall leaks, is too small and has security issues.

"My main concern is getting training," Johnson said Friday, May 13, from the fire station. "We couldn't all fit in here if we wanted to."

The old building, built in the early 1960s is just large enough to hold the department's new (2001) fire truck, an old tanker truck and firefighting gear.

The tanker truck, and a brush truck, need repairs since their water pumps froze while parked outside during winter.

Outside storage is a problem, Johnson said, as water can't be kept in the trucks if the outside temperature is freezing. Filling the trucks when receiving a fire call consumes valuable time -- as much as 20 minutes.

"Just a couple of minutes is very critical for a house fire," Johnson said.

The new truck holds 1,200 gallons. If that runs out during a fire, the crew must call another department or come back to town for more water. The truck is not equipped to siphon water from a pond or other source.

Space concerns

When the firefighters back the 2001 truck into the building, they have about an inch of clearance on each side of the doorway, Johnson said.

The door also must be manually opened -- and closed again -- before heading to a fire. If only one firefighter is in the truck, more time is spent.

The building also houses all firefighting gear and supplies, much of which was in pools of water from recent rains.

Despite the cramped conditions and extra time needed to maneuver in and out of the building, Johnson said he continually stresses safety among the all-volunteer department.

"If we get hurt or wreck the truck, we can't help anybody," he said.

Johnson, who was named chief when Sam Barton took a job outside the county a year ago, said he is extremely proud of his volunteers, now about 30 in number.

"We have the youngest and best fire crew in Oregon County," Johnson said. "My guys do a heck of a job and I can barely get them T-shirts."

Johnson also serves as an Oregon County sheriff's deputy.

Raising money

The Board of Aldermen looked over plans Monday, May 9, drafted by contractor Kenny Myers for a 50- by 70-foot building that could be built on the lot next to City Hall.

Drafting plans were the first step toward applying for a Missouri Department of Conservation loan, city clerk Sherry Orr said.

No construction costs have been calculated yet, although the metal building shell is estimated to cost about $98,000.

The board gave the department approval to raise funds by hosting gun raffles, dinners or other events. The Bank of Alton recently concluded a cinnamon roll sale, with the proceeds to benefit the department.

During the July 4 fireworks display, Alton firefighters will sell concessions to raise money to put toward a matching grant, if one is approved.

"We're still in the very beginning stages," Orr said.

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