BRATTLEBORO—As Etta Mattison maneuvered a giant pair of scissors to snip the ribbon that spanned the new bay doors on the renovated Central Fire Station, a long-anticipated project was finally complete.
The Brattleboro Fire Department now has a bigger, brighter, cleaner central station, where the vehicles fit through the bay doors, and the asbestos has been removed.
Mattison’s husband, the late T. Howard Mattison, was chief of the Brattleboro Fire Department for 30 years. Mattison said she was there to cut the ribbon on Feb. 9 because the current chief, Michael Bucossi, “called me and asked me if I would do it."
‘A very basic, modern station’
The $6.35 million Central Fire Station renovation is the final stage of a three-part police-fire facilities project. In addition to renovating and expanding the station, work included replacing the West Brattleboro Fire Station and moving the Police Department headquarters from the Municipal Center to 62 Black Mountain Road.
The total budget for the three projects was $12.85 million. According to Town Manager Peter B. Elwell, the actual total cost “is coming in at about $12.55 million, leaving about $300,000 to be allocated for future capital expenditures."
While some residents may recall the intense back-and-forth between the Selectboard and Representative Town Meeting, starting about six years ago, on whether to renovate the circa-1949 Central Fire Station or build a new one, the issue is much older.
“This goes back 43 years, when [T. Howard] Mattison hired me,” Bucossi said.
After thinking about it for a moment, Bucossi revealed the need for a larger fire station went back even further than the mid-1970s.
Bucossi said when he was going through boxes of papers to prepare for the move into his new office, “I found a memo in a file from 1968 from [T. Howard] Mattison to Town Manager Corky Elwell saying they were out of space” in the old station.
Instead of getting a completely new building, the new station expands upon the footprint of the old station.
“There’s not a lot of bells and whistles. It’s a very basic, modern station,” Bucossi said. “We’re very conscientious about the citizens’ taxes. We reused whatever we could of the infrastructure and fine-tuned what we could."
Room to maneuver
Bucossi noted he and his staff “had a lot of input” on the design of the new station “from day one.”
“They’ve had a lot of great ideas,” he said.
When asked for some major differences between the old station and the new, Bucossi’s enthusiastic response was, “We have a tremendous amount of space."
“These are modern apparatus bays, and we can work on the vehicles indoors,” he said, and noted, “Now the guys can walk around their trucks without having to turn sideways to get between them."
Bucossi also pointed out a feature that would have been welcome in the old bays: an exhaust removal system. “The environment the guys are working in now is so much safer and healthier,” he added.
Adding to the firefighters’ safety is a new piece of equipment: the gear extractor. Bucossi explained it’s an extra-heavy-duty washer and dryer for bunker gear — the heavy jackets and pants firefighters wear on the scene. Although firefighters wear breathing apparatus, when smoke coming from a variety of materials settles in their clothing, and on exposed skin, it can make them sick.
“Firefighters are dying from cancer,” Bucossi said. The gear extractor — and keeping baby wipes in the trucks for them to wipe down their faces and necks — “keeps our guys and gear clean."
Another improvement Bucossi noted is, “the flow of the room layout is so much better.” There’s more space for training, the living quarters are separate from the public space, “and nobody has to intrude on events” to get into another room, he said.
There are still three bay doors for the fire trucks, but trucks now leave the station from the section of Spring Street that runs directly off of Elliot Street.
The old garage doors, which face Elliot Street, are still in use, Bucossi said, but those bays now hold the chief and assistant chief’s trucks, the rescue boat, the tech rescue trailer, and the all-terrain rescue vehicle.
Other than what’s stored there, the most noticeable difference in the old bay is that it’s clean, the walls aren’t covered in soot, and it doesn’t smell like diesel exhaust.
During the opening remarks of the ribbon-cutting ceremony, held in the new bay, Selectboard Chair Kate O’Connor, Town Manager Peter B. Elwell, and Bucossi thanked a variety of participants, including the Police-Fire Committee members, Project Manager Steve Horton, and construction crews. Elwell solicited, and received, a round of applause for the town’s employees.
Bucossi thanked his firefighters “who worked through dirt and dust, and with no kitchen, without complaint.” The chief made special mention of Assistant Chief Leonard Howard III. “He worked with me day in, day out."
Bucossi also expressed his gratitude for the residents of Brattleboro. “This building represents a long-term commitment to the fire department by the townspeople,” he said.
“We’re really pleased with the outcome,” Elwell said.
Mattison told The Commons that her late husband “was so proud of his fire department. I’m sure he’s looking down on us right now."