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SHALLOTTE—Firefighters have moved into the town’s long-awaited new fire station—a modern facility far removed from the old one-room station that held the growing fire department for nearly 40 years.
Last Tuesday evening, the firefighters celebrated their new $1.2 million facility with a traditional “wetting-down,” a ceremony borrowed from historic U.S. and British naval tradition. Today, firefighters across the nation use a wetting-down, once used to commission new naval officers, to welcome newly commissioned apparatus and facilities, explained Shallotte Fire Chief Paul Dunwell.
Tuesday’s ceremony began with Dunwell dedicating the station with a flag and transferring the former station’s U.S. flag to the new facility, where it will fly for 21 days.
Firefighters then moved the fire engines from the old location to the new station next door on Wall Street and discharged their water tanks onto the new building.
Once each fire hose was emptied, the firefighters gathered to push both vehicles into the bays where they will be housed.
“This is our heritage and a rite of passage that is preserved by firefighter tradition,” Dunwell said.
He said the new facility meets the needs of the growing department more than the old one.
Being in the old building “was a real interesting experience,” the chief said. “It was tight and very confining. Between myself and the fire marshal, we were sharing space, and it quickly became apparent that we were running out of space.”
The most inconvenient part, however, is that he and the fire marshal were separate from the rest of the department.
“We adapted, but now that we’re here, it’s going to be a whole lot more efficient.”
The firefighters now have a separate dayroom complete with kitchen, sleeping quarters, a small workout room, a laundry room, a decontamination room, offices for Dunwell and fire marshal Andy Thompson and larger bays for the fire engines.
“Everything is up to code. Their safety is paramount,” Dunwell said of the firefighters.
“The biggest convenience is I’m now with the crew—we’re all in the same building,” he said.
Dunwell requires firefighters to have 30 minutes of physical activity each day, and the exercise room provides them a place to do that when they’re at the station.
Shallotte Mayor Gerald Long said recently the new fire station would also allow faster response.
“The living quarters allow them to spend the night at the station,” Long said.
The station assigns three firefighters to each shift.
“Everybody we need will be on call at the department and will not have to come from home to the fire station, which will benefit everybody in town.”
Long said in the six and a half years he’s been mayor, a new fire station is “something we have been planning to do from day one.”
“It was a whole lot more expensive to do than we had been told. It was certainly a disappointment that it cost as much as it did.”
The building cost about $1.2 million, while the original estimate several years ago was between $650,000 and $700,000.
The new facility might also improve the department’s state insurance rating, which sets the fire insurance rates for homes and businesses in the fire district. The better the rating, the lower the rates.
“There’s a very good possibility of improving the rating,” said Dunwell. “And it’s a very good model for expansion.”
“It’s a small station, but there’s a lot packed into a small box.”