Great Falls Ten years ago, five-year-old Harris LaTeef heard about Great Falls’ need for a new fire station, so he tried to do what he could to raise money for a new station: he opened a lemonade stand. While LaTeef’s stand raised $307.41 in a little more than four hours, it wasn’t enough. But on Saturday, March 10, LaTeef, now a freshman at Langley High School, was able to attend the grand opening of the new fire station he tried so hard to raise money for.
"It really feels like coming full circle, I was here when the old station was demolished and I have a brick for the old station, now I’m here in a brand new station," he said. "And it’s even more spectacular than I could have imagined."
LaTeef was one of hundreds of Great Falls residents that turned out for the official opening ceremony of the new Great Falls Fire Station. The station became operational in November, but this was the community’s first chance to get a glimpse inside.
"This fire station is here for this community, and it demonstrates what happens when a partnership really comes together," said Frank Smith, Great Falls Volunteer Fire Department chief. "This would only be possible with the persistent effort of the citizens of Great Falls. We’ve attempted to build a state-of-the-art fire system in the county, and a state-of-the-art station here in Great Falls. It gives us the ability to rapidly respond to the emerging needs as the community evolves over time."
IN JULY 2001 the Great Falls Volunteer Fire Department voted to replace the old station. The Great Falls Volunteer Fire Department currently assists Fairfax County Fire and Rescue with operation of the station.
"While replacing the beloved old station was questioned, the volunteers who owned the station and property felt that our career staff, the folks who risk their lives for our safety and property, deserved better conditions," said Joan Bliss, president of the Great Falls Volunteer Fire Department.
The early part of the decade was marked by fundraising efforts from the volunteers. After five years of fundraising, they came up with another solution, a partnership with the county.
"Folks joined the Volunteer Fire Department to run ambulance and fire calls, not to spend most of their time fundraising," Bliss said. "In 2007, we turned our property over to the county, along with a substantial cash percentage of the $12 million needed for a joint new station."
Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville) was elected as the joint station was getting off the ground. He credited his predecessor, Joan DuBois, for her efforts getting the project underway before he took office.
"Almost exactly four years ago, I met with the Great Falls Citizens Association to go over plans for the station. They approved of the project, but there were still some issues that needed to be resolved," he said. "I’m so pleased that we were able to work with the community and the county staff to be able to get the adjacent property, so our new station could have its own septic field so it wouldn’t be on pump and haul."
Fairfax County Fire Chief Ronald Mastin said he believed the new station would enhance the ability of the Great Falls Fire Department to perform its specialized functions.
"While the old station allowed us to serve the community for many years, this new station offers many more opportunities for us in the way of training space and the ability to house all of our firefighters in a great and safe working environment," he said. "In Great Falls, the station has a little bit different mission than our other stations, and that’s Great Falls Park."
THE GREAT FALLS FIRE STATION is responsible for water and other rescues in the park, and the new station gives the firefighters more room to store the specialized boats and other equipment needed. Other improvements include an additional 2,000 square feet of expanded living quarters, workout facilities, training room, office space and equipment storage.
James Patterson, director of Public Works and Environmental services for the county, said the design represented the latest evolution in fire station design techniques.
"If you look at this facility, having four open bays to bring fire trucks in and out, you end up having a structure that’s similar to a highway bridge," he said. "The rails that run along the top of the bay help collect the diesel exhaust and get it out of the building. The bi-fold doors are all about speed, about how quickly we can get the trucks out."
Many of the community members who came to explore the station, met the firefighters and examined some of their equipment, said they were glad to see firefighters in a new building.
"These are the guys and girls that, when push comes to shove, will be out in the community risking their well-being for our safety, and it feels good to know that they will be in such modern facilities," said Cheryl Parsons of Great Falls. "When you consider the long shifts they put in, and how much of their lives are spent here, anything short of the very best just isn’t good enough."