Local firefighters risk their lives on a regular basis, and stay ready to drop whatever they’re doing, to help protect the lives and property of residents and visitors alike. And they do it for no pay.
On the up side, firefighters at the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company (BBVFC) now have new digs and a new truck to make a pretty tough “hobby” a little easier.
Still engrossed in a capital fundraising campaign, the fire company is already enjoying their newly finished fire hall in Bethany Beach.
Constructed to the west of the old building and connected to it, the new hall includes not just shiny new surfaces and more room for what had been an overflowing bunch of equipment, but also the facilities that transform the department from an old-fashioned volunteer service with limited facilities and bridge them into a future where the area will most likely need a solid staff of paid, full-time firefighters to keep up with growth.
Upstairs, there are two three-person bunk rooms, dedicated to those who actually live at the station, ready to respond to fire and other emergency calls, day or night. The rooms are private, accessible only to those assigned to them.
There’s also a separate bunk area for the more traditional volunteers — a series of literal bunk beds where they can catch a nap or get a good night’s sleep before or after they’ve been on call. Overhead, red lights clue sleepy firefighters into a fire call, while blue lights indicate a medical emergency that requires a response.
There are restroom and shower facilities for both groups, along with a laundry area. And the kitchen features not only all the traditional appliances of a full home setup but a second, separate refrigerator to accommodate both live-in firefighters’ food and the things volunteers keep stashed at the station — no risk of someone eating your yogurt.
“The only thing we don’t provide for them is food,” BBVFC Fire Chief Rick Parrett said of the live-in crew.
The live-in program is relatively new to the BBFVC, officially coming into play in Bethany with the new fire hall and accommodations that increased the room for overnight stays to a reasonable amount. The company has also been experimenting with the live-in program at its Fenwick Island station. Between the six beds in Bethany and five more in Fenwick Island, there’s room for 11 live-in firefighters in the department.
“We’re at full capacity with six here,” Parrett said of the Bethany station. “We hope to fill the beds in Fenwick Island by the summer.”
The firefighters will get some decent — though well-deserved — perks with the new fire hall. In addition to the basics for daily life, they have a weight room to help keep in shape for the physically demanding job and a recreation area with comfy couches, a pool table and a television to while away some downtime.
Back on the job front, they’ve got a new meeting room designed to accommodate the full roster of firefighters, and a smaller conference room designed to allow a smaller group to meet for things such as training and seminars. Despite the proximity to the old facility, it’s miles above it in terms of meeting the company’s needs. From barely enough room to — uncomfortably — squeeze in all their members for a meeting, they’ve got to enough space to be comfortable and grow.
Down the hall, there are even separate offices for the chief and fire company president (currently Bob Webster). That’s a big upgrade from the former cramped space they and the other fire company officers shared — and shared with the company’s communication equipment and computers.
They, too, have a new home. On the southwest corner of the new brick structure is a small room that has a nearly bunker-like quality. It’s clearly intended to withstand some heavy weather or other emergency. But — at least during a fine spring day — its large windows allow a commanding view of the busy Route 1/Route 26 intersection outside.
The computers and other communication equipment have plenty of space now, unlike before. And while the room is small, it not only has some storage but also a fold-out bed that emerges from that storage should anyone need to camp out long-term right in the communications room during inclement weather or another emergency.
Parrett noted that the company is still experiencing major difficulties with the reliability of its communications between the station and member firefighters. The current radio tower doesn’t always deliver a signal to members’ pagers, making it difficult to ensure that the company has a full turnout for emergencies.
They’ve been working with Bethany Beach officials to see if they can’t get a taller tower to help boost the signal strength over their lengthy north-south coverage zone, but they have yet to reach a formal arrangement or have a follow-up hearing on variance requests. A vote on the council position on the variance request for the proposed 125-foot tower is set for the council’s April 21 meeting. Parrett said he hoped a suitable compromise might be forthcoming in the near future and solve those communication problems.
For now, they’re making due with the existing system, with at least a better facility in which to house it.
Just outside the communications room is the new mustering area for the firefighters. A series of open closets — composed of fire-engine red wire — house their gear, from helmets and boots to shiny, reflective coats.
That puts the firefighters ready to board their engines, tower trucks and other emergency vehicles, most of which are now parked in the neighboring bays. That’s another change for the BBVFC — the station entrance now opens directly onto Route 1, enabling them to more easily get their equipment out of the station and down the street to the sites of emergencies.
It also avoids any possible lingering puddles on Hollywood Street (much improved now due to Bethany Beach Public Works’ efforts at stormwater control), which had become a nightmare in the old station building. A higher floor level in the new station reduces the risk that the station itself will get flooded, as often happened in the old facility, causing havoc and potential damage to the equipment.
The new equipment bays now also house a shiny new tower truck, just arrived a week or so ago. It’s not a truly new acquisition for the BBVFC, whose current fundraising goals are still primarily tied into paying for the new fire hall. Instead, it’s a trade-up for a previous tower truck that had some persistent mechanical problems.
The manufacturer, Pierce, offered a replacement for the 2000 model-year truck in a shiny new 2006 model, Parrett said. And the BBVFC took advantage of the offer by adding on new safety features, including front and side airbags for the cab area.
The tower truck is technically called a “SkyArm,” Parrett explained. The 100-foot ladder actually includes a 20-foot section at the end that articulates, allowing the ladder to reach up and over to access difficult locations — hence SkyArm.
The firefighters were eagerly awaiting the delivery of the truck last week, after the eight months it took Pierce to build it for them. But now that it’s finally arrived, they’ll have to prepare to be without it again for a few weeks as the final bits of equipment installation are done off-site. However, they did get a good chance to examine it this week, as technicians installed the radio equipment in what will soon be its permanent home.
Parrett said the SkyArm will likely be in service before the end of April.
Another vehicular inhabitant of the new fire hall is not going to be pressed into service as a firefighting conveyance. It’s a new Harley-Davidson motorcycle — the prize in the next BBFVC fundraiser.
After having raffled off a pickup truck last year, the company is expecting heavy sales for the raffle tickets on the shiny new hog. It’s marked with a temporary “Please Do Not Touch” sign right on the windscreen and surrounded by a barrier, ensuring fingerprints will be few and far between and scratches nonexistent when it’s turned over to its new owner.
The September raffle will coincide with the BBFVC’s official open house for the new fire hall. (They’re also preparing for a visit from local officials in the coming weeks, just to show off the new digs.)
With the raffle and ongoing fundraising efforts, the company is hoping to both pay off the tab on the new hall and continue to raise funds for ongoing equipment needs, Parrett said.
That should make life for the area’s firefighters a little easier. But, though their volunteer status turns the job into a very dangerous and demanding sideline, Parrett said each of the company’s members is highly dedicated to providing the emergency services the area’s residents and visitors could — literally — not live without.
“We couldn’t get them to stop doing it,” he said.
As it is, the firefighters of the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company get a great deal of satisfaction from their unique way of life. They also now get to enjoy their noontime meals together in the midst of shiny new equipment and a soft cushion to sit on before their next emergency call has them rushing out the door and into danger.