Still settling in at Savoy fire station
Building's new second floor will improve working conditions for firefighters, EMTs
SAVOY — Like a lot of families with growing pains, the Savoy Fire Department was in need of a little more room.
When the building at 106 W. Tomaras Ave. opened in July 1994, the population of the village bordering Champaign's south side was right around 3,100. Today, it's closer to 7,500, meaning a lot more homes for the approximately 30 members of the volunteer fire department to cover.
And as the late, great comedian George Carlin famously put it, the firefighters needed "a place to put your stuff."
"This project was born out of a need at the fire station. They had a second floor that had never been finished that had turned into a junk room," said Savoy resident Eddie Bain, who serves as an investigator and fire prevention program director for the volunteer fire department.
"A modern fire service requires a lot of meetings, files and records, and they were really struggling for quality meeting space and space for the officers to take care of all the administrative stuff that needs to be done," Bain said.
Thus was born the second floor, which still smells new having been completed earlier this month.
Two interior stairwells were added. So were lockers for the firefighters to have a place to put their stuff like a change of clothes; a fitness room; a bathroom with shower; a day room with a television and computer stations; a conference room with built-in cabinets for fire truck manuals and other training materials; a kitchenette with dishwasher, stove, microwave oven and refrigerator; and four small sleeping cubicles, each large enough to accommodate a twin bed and a small chest or desk.
The sleeping cubicles were needed to accommodate the two paramedic/emergency medical technicians from Presence Pro Ambulance who staff an ambulance stationed at the Savoy fire station.
Starting this month, Presence shifted its ambulance crew there to working 24 hours on followed by 48 hours off instead of the previous 12-hour shifts.
Tim Compton, director of Presence Pro Ambulance/Regional EMS, said the company moved to the work schedule about 18 months ago and started it with the ambulance crews at Champaign Fire Station 4 at 2315 W. John St. and at the main fire station in downtown Urbana at 400 S. Vine St. Later, they expanded it to the ambulance crew at the Rantoul police station at 109 E. Grove Ave.
"It has (worked well). It's new to us. We've never done it before. Times change. It was there more for employee satisfaction," he said.
"They will be able to sleep certain hours, cook a meal, do laundry, take a shower. You have to have living quarters for that."
Compton said it also made scheduling easier from a management standpoint, although no one is forced to work the 24-on, 48-off schedule.
"At my age, I wouldn't have done it," said Compton, who's been with the company since 1990. "Sometimes you are running calls all night long. The flip side is, when I'm done, I'm off for two whole days."
The way the Savoy fire station's second floor is designed, the sleeping cubicles that will be used by the EMTs are close to the stairwell that leads right down to their ambulance.
Having all the space on the second floor frees up room on the first floor for training areas and offices.
"As the department has gotten busier, the office and the meeting space were not adequate," said Savoy Village Administrator Dick Helton.
"We've had that space ever since the building was built. Rather than add on any space, we decided to use that space up there," he said.
Bain said part of the ground-level training room had been used by the ambulance employees as a family room with a television and a couple of recliners. The firefighters can now reclaim that space.
The cost of the renovation construction, which some fire department officers had been urging for the last four to five years according to Bain, is about $178,500. Savoy Village Administrator Dick Helton said trustees budgeted $220,000 for the total project. The larger number includes the cost of furnishings, Helton said.
Presence Pro Ambulance will pay the village a total of about $32,000 over the next two to three years for letting its employees use the building around the clock, Helton said.
The renovation cost compares with about $400,000 to build the structure, a process that didn't start out so smoothly when the almost-finished frame collapsed on Dec. 29, 1993, forcing a do-over on the building design and a restart of construction.
Bain said the building was thoroughly evaluated before the renovation began to make sure the second floor would support the weight of the additions.
"We had to look at the trusses and the floor to make sure it was structurally sound," he said. "It is and we worked through all that. We came up with a plan to include a conference room and a combination library where 10 to 12 people can have a meeting, and a day room. We're trying to make an encouraging comfortable place for the volunteers to come and hang out so they are there and available more," Bain said.
Bain said the village could always use more volunteer firefighters.