As it stands today, the Brainerd Fire Department substation in northeast Brainerd is empty with the exception of a table and a few chairs.
Within a month, that will change.
Brainerd residents received their first chance to tour the northeast fire station Thursday as part of an open house for several Brainerd facilities -- a $3.9 million project which included an expansion of the current Brainerd Fire Hall, the construction of a Brainerd Police Department in the former Water and Light Building on Laurel Street and the construction of a street department building in the Brainerd Industrial Park.
The 4,800-square-foot fire station, located next to Mill Park off M Street and Mill Avenue, is set to begin operating by mid-November.
Along with a garage for fire equipment, the fire station has a meeting room for firefighters, two bathrooms with showers, a utility room and an office for the Brainerd Police Department.
"We've accomplished what the city has been trying to do the past 20 years," which is a fire station north of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad tracks, said Brainerd Fire Chief Kevin Mahle. "It's a big plus having fire and rescue equipment on both sides of the track."
When it opens for operation, the northeast station will have a engine and a tanker, Mahle said, both of which will be transferred from the existing station on Laurel Street. Eventually Mahle would like to have two engines, a tanker and a service truck operating out of the northeast fire station.
"It's the best of both worlds," said Mahle, referring to the new fire station and the current station on Laurel Street. "What we're going to have is more distribution, coverage on the north side of the tracks and a better insurance rating for people living outside the city limits."
The northeast station won't have a full-time crew but will be manned by a squad of about seven volunteer firefighters, all who live within a few blocks of the station.
In charge will be Brainerd Fire Captain Fred Eiesland, who said the station is a step in the right direction to meet the needs of the community.
"It's something, as we get bigger, we're going to have to evolve to the next step of fire protection, which is more stations," said Eiesland. "This is a real step in the right direction."
It will take some time to have both the Laurel Street and Mill Avenue fire stations equipped to where Mahle would like.
As he said at Monday's Brainerd City Council meeting, it's Mahle's opinion that his department is underfunded. However, he said his situation is no different than any other city department and won't affect the operation of the fire department.
"In these economic times we really have to live within our means," said Mahle. "We can still provide services. We're not putting anyone in undue danger."
Currently the northeast station is furnished only with a few chairs, a computer and a wooden bench and table that were part of Brainerd's original fire hall. Mahle said he is in the process of buying furnishings and equipment for the station, including lockers for the firefighters.
"We don't want to rush it," said Mahle of making the station operational. "To rush it and not be effective will be detrimental to the community." Mahle said his department will be seeking grants to purchase equipment.
All that's needed to be done for the northeast station is to put sealant on the floor, complete water-drops from the ceiling to the engines and tankers and have the firefighters that will be assigned to the station complete additional training for operating the fire equipment.
Eventually Mahle said he would like to see more substations. The city of Baxter, which is working on funding for a substation on the north side of the city, would be the next location. Southeast Brainerd and south Baxter are likely choices for future sites.
"These are really exciting times," said Eiesland.
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