VAIL — The first fire station in town had long showed its age, with cramped quarters, narrow staircases and a lot of wiring that went, well, nowhere in particular. That’s all changed now.
The Vail Fire Department on Wednesday took a couple of hours to show off the newly renovated fire station in Vail Village. That celebration brought out a number of the town’s former firefighters. One former chief, Steve Miller, drove up from Denver for the occasion.
What those former firefighters saw is a building with up-to-date equipment, right down to the lighting. Mark Miller, current chief, showed the audience a set of red lights in the fire truck parking area in the building. Those red lights are for more than just cutting nighttime glare in the neighborhood, he said.
“When you’re answering a call at 3 (a.m.), they’re easier on your eyes than regular fluorescent lights,” Miller said.
But turning an old, rickety building into a modern, efficient one wasn’t easy. Miller talked to the audience about the problems — and surprises — involved in gutting the old station and re-making it from the inside-out. Construction managers from G.E. Johnson more than once told Miller that parts of the building — built in 1971, the year before the town had a paid fire chief — probably should have collapsed years ago.
Miller said some of the project’s surprises came thanks to the fact that firefighters did a lot of the work on the first building and its subsequent renovations. Bill Pierce, the architect of the original station and for the renovation project, said a former chief once found a large piece of plywood on the side of the road that made its way into the building.
But those seat-of-the-pants techniques built camaraderie among the firefighters.
“The guys here today helped write the history of this department,” said Mike McGee, who was around in the early 1970s.
Back then, the department, like the town itself, was still organizing itself, and on a tight budget for everything from trucks to communications. And, like most small-town fire departments at the time, sirens rallied volunteers to the station to answer fire calls.
One of those volunteers, Bob Warner, recalled that the sirens were both at the fire house and at Mid Vail. More than once, volunteers dropped whatever they were doing and hot-footed down the mountain to answer a call.
“We didn’t have 911 then, so we’d have the sirens and pagers,” firefighter Cooter Overcash said.
Overcash has been with the department since 1975, first as a volunteer. He became a paid firefighter in 1978 and is set to retire later this summer. The fact that so many former firefighters turned out for the celebration “shows how import this station was to everybody,” he said.
The Vail Fire Department has a special place in the hearts of many residents, too. Some of that affection is on display just inside the front door.
A couple of years before the renovation project started, local Donna Giordano held a thank-you party for both police officers and firefighters. At that party, she showed the firefighters her garage floor, painted in 1960s-style candy-apple metalflake red, and said she’d like to paint the floor of the garage area of Vail Village station the same color.
During the planning for the renovation project, Miller looked into painting the floor hot-rod red, but decided the floor would take too much abuse from muddy boots and dropped equipment to keep it looking great for very long.
Now, the entryway floor to the building is that vivid red, with the department’s logo in the center, a gift from Giordano.
That donation is part of this new chapter in the fire station’s history, one that might, this time, last for some time.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2939 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.