La Crosse Fire Department hopes to rebuild stations, add fifth

La Crosse Fire Department hopes to...

LA CROSSE, Wis. - In the last 50 years, a lot has changed for the La Crosse Fire Department in terms of its responsibilities and new technology. Its physical fire stations, however, have not been able to keep up with the times.

La Crosse has four fire stations, the newest of which was built in 1967. City and Fire Department officials say their buildings are long overdue for an upgrade, and that could mean building new stations altogether.

Fire Station 1 in La Crosse marks its 50th birthday this year, and it's showing its age.

"That's all supposed to be white,” Fire Chief Gregg Cleveland said of the dark ceiling in the station’s garage.

Walls can't talk, but they can show signs of diesel smoke making its way through the station, which Cleveland said also has outdated heating and cooling systems, shared bathrooms and living space for male and female firefighters and no place for workers to wash their gear.

Cleveland said similar issues can be found in the city's other three fire stations.

The stations also aren’t accessible to those who are disabled.

"We're an organization that goes out and tells people they have to comply with whatever that might be, like fire prevention or fire safety,” he said. “And yet when we look at our own facilities, although what they do is meet the standards that were in 1967, we need to say, 'Are those standards adequate today?'”

Five Bugles, a group based in Eau Claire, recently recommended replacing the four stations completely, and Cleveland said an additional fifth station is needed to better serve the southeast portion of the city.

The consultant estimated the price of rebuilding the four stations and an additional fifth station at $28 million.

Mayor Tim Kabat agrees new stations are needed.

"The bigger picture in my mind is: 'Are current stations in optimal locations?'” he said. “If we are going to invest in new stations, how do we fit that in and make sure we've got the greatest coverage and response times?"

At this point, Cleveland said, the old stations are not worth the upkeep.

“We need to make sure your facilities can serve the population,” Cleveland said. “That's our responsibility."

Kabat and Cleveland agree that building the new stations will be a multiyear project.

Cleveland said the city's plan is to address Station 2 first and then Station 4 and Station 3, and finally, Station 1. He said it could be up to 15 years before Station 1 is redone.

Kabat said one of the first priorities for the new Common Council will be laying out the future plans for the city's fire stations, and hopefully the council will have something prepared by the time it starts work this summer on the city's 2018 budget.

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