By Cory L. Higgs
After years of planning and hard work, the Stuart Volunteer Fire Department moved into its new home Saturday.
The new 29,000 square-foot facility was repurposed from the vacant grocery store building and now houses a garage bay large enough for more vehicles or larger ones should the need arise, workrooms, officers, industrial-grade kitchen, lounge space and extra space that can be potentially leased to the local rescue squad or turned into living quarters should the department ever become full time.
Stuart Mayor Ray Weiland said it was hard to see a silver lining when the former Food Lion store closed. However, looking back, it was something that ultimately turned out good for the town, he said.
SVFD purchased the property in 2016; the property is also home to Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC), who operates a trade school at one end of the facility.
Weiland said that the coverage area of the fire department had expanded and that the new facility could give them the edge to continue serving locally and other regions. The station will help other localities as need be, and with the new facility, the department expects to be even better equipped for any new challenges.
Weiland added the facility is larger than a new building, and that repurposing the vacant build saved money and provided a space that will be large enough to continue serving the community far into the future.
In his speech Saturday, Weiland thanked everyone for their devoted commitment to the project and to those who volunteer to keep Stuart safe. He noted how cost-effective the project.
“We realize that the cost of this building and renovations would actually save the town more than a million dollars when compared to starting from scratch. The ease of access to Routes 8 and 58 will cut calls times,” he said.
Erica Cipko, a volunteer with SVFD, said that she was amazed at the community support of the firehouse, with people showing us as early as 9 a.m. to get tours of the facility. Cipko then helped organize the parade line-up, which featured safety vehicles and staff from Stuart and other localities, the parade stretched down Main Street and could be heard for miles around.
The events lasted all day, with demonstrations on how to use household fire extinguishers; the AirCare helicopter made an appearance and touched down in the parking lot; demonstrations of vehicular extraction, a public safety apparatus parade, and a fireworks display capped off the evening. Fire trucks and crews from surrounding areas made the trek to Stuart to show support and celebrate their fellow firefighters’ new home.
Officials say the new facility will last for a long time and offer space for expansion for years to come. This year marks the 104th year of the Stuart Volunteer Fire Department and the opening of the new facility to better serve the community.
The opening of the new fire department also marked another milestone for the town of Stuart: the acquisition of a Town Shop which was desperately needed. The shop now will be housed in the former fire station under the town’s offices.