A Letter from the Chief:
I would first like to thank you for your support of the West Sand Lake Fire Department and its dedicated firefighters. The residents of our district have historically been some of the best people I have had the opportunity to serve throughout my 20+ years in public safety. West Sand Lake is the definition of “community,” and I am proud to serve each of you as your Fire Chief. From town wide floods, fires, and accidents to a global pandemic, the last several years have been challenging for first responders, but our volunteers have continued to serve and strengthen the community of West Sand Lake.
While our volunteers have continued to improve the level of service provided to those in need, the future vitality and growth of our operations are dependent on the health and safety our physical facilities can provide for each of our members. Our volunteers alone spend an average of more than 7,000 hours each year giving back to the West Sand Lake community through a combination of responses to calls for help (300-400 calls per year on average), training, and other fire company-related activities.
Our community deserves a facility that is safe and welcoming for public events, improves the ability of first responders to serve and protect, complies with current fire and life safety codes, and supports our mission to recruit and retain dedicated West Sand Lake volunteers. As a member of the Facilities Committee and a strong advocate for this much needed project, I welcome you to help us create a fire station that will serve generations to come.
The West Sand Lake Fire Department began the process in November 2021 to evaluate and explore all options for a new or improved fire station that would better serve the community and provide a safe and efficient facility for its members. To advocate and provide equal representation for all stakeholder groups, the Facilities Committee includes members from each functional branch of our operations, as well as a tax paying resident of our community who works as an architect for the design of public buildings.
We have understood the need to remain transparent and encourage input from both the community and our membership. Following the first public workshop in June 2022, we released member and community surveys to better understand the needs, opinions, and concerns related to the fire station, museum, and hall. The survey responses were used to create and refine a series of site plans and conceptual designs until two concepts were selected to further develop and present to the community.
Our focus is on ensuring this project makes our community proud and provides a station that will withstand the changing demands in public safety for decades to come. Over the course of this process, our timeline has changed to invest the time needed to develop a project for final voter approval. We are currently anticipating a bond referendum date of August 2023. Please check the district website, Facebook page, and the Advertiser for additional communications, an FAQ document, and upcoming community meetings. We also encourage you to visit the fire station if you’d like to better understand our current operations and the challenges we face.
Background & Existing Conditions:
The current firehouse is a pre-engineered structure originally built in the 1970s. When it was first constructed, the station was given an estimated useful life of 25-50 years. During that time, it was difficult to predict the growth of the fire department, the Town of Sand Lake, and the hamlet of West Sand Lake. At the same time, high risk factors for cancers and other diseases in firefighters, increasing sizes of modern apparatus, and updated building codes for improved health and safety have impacted the ability of the station to support its members.
While the current station has served the department and its residents well for nearly 50 years, clear issues and deficiencies have impacted our operations and present a significant health and safety concern. Recurring deterioration and cracking of the apparatus bay floor, life safety and code compliance concerns, limited administrative space, and inadequate equipment and record storage result in the need for a modernized, safe, and functional facility.
To date, we have engaged our community in three public workshops (June 29, 2022; August 25, 2022; March 22, 2023) to discuss the current and future needs of the department, explain the trends in the fire service and their impact on the design process, and present the deficiencies and safety issues within the current fire station. These workshops provided opportunities to answer public questions and understand community needs related to a new station.
Two conceptual designs and preliminary budget estimates were presented to the community at the last workshop on March 22nd. Option #1 showed a design that kept the current museum on the property. While the exact costs to maintain and modify the museum as a stand-alone building are unknown, responses from the community survey indicated that the public would like to see the museum stay. The Facilities Committee felt it was important to show an option that retained the existing museum. Option #2 included a design that removes the current museum and instead incorporates the antique fire apparatus into the bay of the new station, providing a more visible location for the original apparatus that preserves our history in a modern facility. Other aspects of the museum can be incorporated into the design as well, sparked from a comment made by a community member who suggested reusing the bell and weathervane that sits on the current museum in the new station. While the estimated budgets of both options are roughly the same, option #2 would eliminate future maintenance needs to keep the museum operational and reduce long-term costs.
After open discussion with community members, option #2 was selected as the preferred concept to revise and improve moving forward. Both designs are available for review in the document links below, but we feel that with the help of our community, we are making progress to develop a thoughtful plan for public referendum in August 2023.
Tomorrow and the Future:
The needs and demands of the fire service are ever evolving, but our history, lessons learned, and data gathered allows us to make decisions as we move toward the future. A firehouse is ultimately nothing without firefighters. If you or someone you know is interested in joining our “family” of volunteers, we would love to meet with you. The next generation of firefighters is essential and starts with our community.
The Facilities Committee wants to facilitate a transparent process and is looking for your input. Questions or comments are encouraged and can be submitted via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please check back frequently as we will publish all updated information here.
We would absolutely not be able to consider this project without the support of our community, and we feel we have developed a plan that keeps the needs and values of our community and membership front of mind. While public projects of this nature are funded through local taxes, the health and safety of our members and long-term growth of our department are dependent on a facility that supports them. We encourage you to make your voice heard and come out to vote in August.
Thank you for your consideration of this project.
Edward J. Heffern
West Sand Lake Fire District
This Link will take you to a dropbox account which hosts our community workshops in .pdf format for you to view or download.
Draft Floor Plan and Site Plan below: