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Forest Fire Department seeks to finish new firehouse

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By John Barnhart

    Bedford County’s volunteer firefighters have an expensive unpaid job and the Forest Volunteer Fire Department provides a good example.

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    The Forest Fire Department is Bedford County’s second busiest fire department, running between 500 and 600 calls every year. Bedford’s is the busiest. Forest is also one of the three fire departments that provide Rapid Intervention Teams (RIT). The other two are Bedford and the Stewartsville Volunteer Fire Department.
    A RIT comes to a structure fire when firefighters go into a burning structure. If a firefighter gets in trouble inside, the RIT goes in to get him out.
    Forest outgrew its old firehouse and moved into a new one two years ago. So far, only the bay area which holds the fire trucks has been finished. The other half of the building remains empty while the firefighters raise money to finish its interior.
    “Right now the only thing we are utilizing is the bay area,” Nick Thomas said.
     Thomas  said the first floor will provide a meeting room and offices. Right now the fire department’s office is in a room intended to be a maintenance room. There is a temporary firefighters’ lounge in a storage room.
    Another office is in the room designated for hose storage. Meetings are held in the bay area.
    “It gets a little warm in the summer and a little cool in the winter,” Thomas commented.
    The first floor of the unfinished section will also contain toilets and the kitchen.
    The second floor will have two bunk rooms — a male and a female bunk room — bathrooms, a lounge and a workout room. Thomas said the bunk rooms are important because firefighters will be able to bunk there overnight in the event of a big storm. This feature will reduce response time.
    “The most difficult time, truthfully, for us is getting from home to here,” Thomas said.
    Thomas estimates that finishing the first floor will cost $300,000 and finishing the second floor will cost $200,000.
    Most of the exterior is done, although the parking lot needs to be paved. Thomas said that the department has half the money needed for that. The department has taken out a loan for the rest so that it can get that done by fall.
    Meanwhile, there are still equipment costs.
    The air bottles that go with the air packs that firefighters need in order to enter a smoke-filled building have a limited lifespan. Forest will have to replace 60 air bottles within the next three years. Fire hose has a limited life too, and the hose costs an average of $1 per foot to replace. Turnout suits also wear out over time.
    Thomas said the fire department costs $200,000 per year to run.
    The department gets money from the county, but it also has to raise money itself and all the cost of finishing the firehouse is on the firefighters.
    They’ve been creative. The area around the flagpoles in front of the firehouse is paved with bricks. They have been selling bricks, at $400 each, that donors can have engraved with whatever they want, within reason. They replace blank bricks with the engraved bricks as donations come in. They did a raffle for a rifle, this year, that brought in $8,000.
    The next fundraiser the department has planned is a 5K Fireman’s Run, slated for Aug. 24.  The entry fee is $25. People interested in participating can register on the fire department’s Web site at www.ForestCo5.com,  Thomas said that 100 people had signed up as of last Wednesday.
    “My wife [Charmin] is actually coordinating it,” he said. “She’s a big time run