Racine Fire Chief Steve Hansen hopes to use federal stimulus money to build a new fire station near Durand Avenue and Memorial Drive.
The chief proposed the idea Monday night while seeking permission from the City Council's Personnel and Finance Committee to apply for $2.5 million in stimulus money to build the new station. It would cost the city about $500,000, Hansen said.
If the money comes together, the Fire Department would move Station 6, 2101 16th St., to the south side location, Hansen said. There is plenty of land - including city-owned land - available near Durand and Memorial for use, he said.
The current Station 6 was built in 1973 as a temporary building in anticipation of the city growing to the south, Hansen said. The station was actually built as a residence with a garage for fire trucks. If a new station is built, the old station could be converted into a home or possibly a community-oriented policing (COP) house, he said.
Hansen said the major reason for moving the station is concern about coal trains rolling through the city. We Energies' two new coal-fired generators are set to go online this year and next. Both will require longer trains that will have the potential to block intersections and delay emergency response times from Station 6, Hansen said.
Moving the station south will add 30 seconds to response times in the neighborhoods along 16th, 17th and 18th streets, Hansen said. But it will give fire and rescue workers direct a route under the railroad tracks on Durand Avenue to Racine Street. As it stands, if a train is running, fire trucks and ambulances would have to drive from 16th Street south to Durand to get around the train.
Hansen added that the train companies use the tracks through Racine to stage their cars heading toward the power plant. That means the long trains slow down and take even longer to clear intersections.
"They do that at 2-3 a.m.," Hansen said, "but we have fire and rescue calls at 2-3 a.m."
Committee members approved Hansen's request to apply for the grant, but were noncommittal about using the money if it comes through.
Alderman Mike Shields asked Hansen if he'd considered what would happen to the old fire station if the city built a new one.
"If we're going to spend $500,000 we don't want to see that neighborhood deteriorate," Shields said. "If we spend $500,000 we want to see everything come up together."
The grant for the new fire station isn't a guarantee, Hansen said. Racine would compete with communities around the country for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's Assistance to Fire Fighters Fire Station Construction Grant. The money would be available through the Department of Homeland Security.
The grant requires a 20 percent match from the city. Hansen suggested the money could be borrowed as part of the city's capital improvement program. He said city officials should know if they will receive the federal grant in time to include the matching dollars in next year's budget.
"We can always turn down the grant," Hansen said. "I'm not asking to accept, just to apply."
Alderman Tom Friedel made a motion to allow Hansen to apply. The committee voted unanimously in favor of the proposal, which still needs approval from the full City Council.