Council asked to consider new fire station

Dedicated firefighters appreciated

Staff reporter

It's simple.

There's only so much space for trucks, equipment, and gear. And when all that space is used and there needs to be more, what do you do?

For Hillsboro Fire Chief Ben Steketee it means expanding or building a new station.

Steketee told Hillsboro City Council Jan. 2 that more space is needed.

It's not news to some.

Former city administrator Steve Garrett and Steketee had discussed the options a couple of years ago. A floor plan was drawn which included five open bays two deep with one as a drive-through. There also were two bays for ambulances.

"There's going to come a day when Hillsboro is going to need two ambulances," Steketee said.

The proposed floor plan also includes an office, storage, kitchen, meeting room, laundry facilities, and bathrooms. The proposed building is 150x66-feet.

"This represents the needs from a firefighter's perspective," Steketee said. He continued that a city planner may have other ideas which he and his department certainly are open to discuss.

The fire station is housed with city hall and the city library which was constructed in the mid-1970s. The three bays allow storage of apparatus (fire trucks) but not all will fit.

"We protect a 119-square-mile area," Steketee said, which includes townships. Those townships collect tax dollars and pay Hillsboro Fire Department for fire protection. The townships also provide fire trucks.

So where are those trucks that don't fit in the existing fire station?

"Thankfully the city owns the former AMPI building," Steketee said, where a tanker truck is parked, ready to be used. "Townships are poised and ready to purchase a new tanker truck but we don't have room at the station."

The ideal location of a new station, Steketee said, would be near the former AMPI building.

"There's a sufficient area for a station and it would be in a good location for the firefighters to get to," he said.

What about expanding at the current station?

"The station could be expanded into the parking lot (north)," Steketee said, but that could cause parking concerns, particularly during the day when volunteers are looking for a place to park when they respond to a fire call.

Regardless of which direction the progressive city council and administration takes, Steketee knows what's best for his department and personnel.

"It would be more effective to have the apparatus at one place which would make it easier for the volunteers," Steketee said.

The volunteers make the department a success and Steketee always wants to keep their needs in the forefront.

Currently, there are hooks along the north wall of the fire station, two per firefighter — one for bunker gear to wear when fighting structure fires and one for gear to wear when fighting prairie fires. Fire hats or helmets are on a rack above the hooks and the boots on the floor below the hooks. A fire truck is parked next to the hooks.

"I'm at capacity now," Steketee said, referring to volunteers and room for hooks along the wall.

Ideally, the hooks would be at the back of the station.

"I don't like having this fire truck parked so close to where the firefighters get their gear," Steketee said.

And a faithful team of volunteers he has.

Dedicated volunteers

The 19 firefighters represent a total of 222 years of experience with Mike Duerksen and Joe Alvarez having 62 years of combined experience.

"They are a valuable source of information and knowledge and, from my point of view, epitomize dedication," Steketee said, a 10-year veteran of the department.

"This department is staffed by people who work out of dedication to their families, friends, and neighbors," Steketee said. "Gone are the days of grease monkeys looking for an excuse to drive fast or get their kicks spraying water on a fire."

The chief and members of his department strive for an atmosphere of safety and professionalism.

Steketee said one firefighter, Jason Plett, joined the department in 2004. Last year he completed a Firefighters I class and is enrolled in an emergency medical technician class.

"I have other volunteers who have taken the EMT class and now are interested in taking firefighter classes," Steketee said.

The fire department has a banquet each December to recognize volunteers for their service.

Plett also was recognized for attending the most training and fires.

Steketee also noted that assistant fire chief and training officer Todd Helmer is involved in a countywide project in planning a training facility for all firefighters within Marion County.

Firefighters and their years of service include Duerksen, 32; Alvarez, 30; Gerald Ollenburger, 26; Lowell Foth, 19; Helmer and Murray Koop, 15 each; Kenny Ollenburger, 14; Lloyd Spencer, 11; Marty Rader and Steketee, 10 each; Lyle Isaac and David Lancaster, seven each; Doug Taylor and Ron Toews, six each; Plett and Randy Welch, four each; and Rusty Moss, Rachel Pederson, and Jason Rooker, two each.

More than a chief

These days, Steketee wears other hats in addition to being fire chief for the past six years. He now serves as the city building inspector and code enforcement officer.

"Hillsboro has had a history of fire chiefs being building inspectors," Steketee said, which is a good fit.

Ideally, Steketee would like to divide his time three equal ways for the three positions. Right now, he is spending more time being trained as a building inspector but when that training ends, there will be more of a balance.