Bunk rooms are among the planned upgrades at Station 12 outside of Myakka City.
In renovating Station 12 in East County, East Manatee Fire Rescue is preparing not only for better service but also for the future.
Deputy Chief Paul Wren said one of the main reasons for the renovation project was to separate bunk rooms so the space can accommodate both male and female firefighters, as well as providing more room for all the firefighters in general.
Currently, there are no female firefighters assigned to Station 12, but Wren would like to see more in the future. He also said firefighters, in general, shouldn't be packed into one bunk room. Station 12 usually has three firefighters working the shift there.
“The hope is that this remodel is going to make it a better livable space,” Wren said.
“You do spend a third of your life here as a firefighter,” Logistics Officer Scott Rhodes said of the station.
Although Station 12, at State Road 70 and Verna Road, currently has another intended bunk room, it does not meet the code, which specifies the room needs to have an egress window, which would allow inhabitants to pull a lever and exit in case of emergency.
The renovation will include the installation of such a window/windows in a project that will result in three bunk rooms.
Overall, East Manatee Fire Rescue currently has one female firefighter in Kim Luther, who works as an administrative officer. Noreen Hollman was a female firefighter with East Manatee but retired.
With the population boom in the county, Rhodes said the renovation is important in case the number of firefighters at the station expands. Myakka City Fire Control merged with East Manatee Fire Rescue in 2021.
“It's been a big learning curve, but we're getting there,” Rhodes said of the merger.
He said the transition was smooth, with plenty of assistance from the previous fire administration.
“They gave us a lot of insight as to how the place works, and how the area works,” Rhodes said.
Station 11, located along Wauchula Road near S.R. 70, is staffed with three firefighters as well as an EMS transport unit. Plans are being considered to consider a renovation or replacement building at that site.
Station 12 used to have only two firefighters but has expanded to three.
“That will change the productivity and the safety for responding to incidents exponentially,” Rhodes said.
Certainly, the stations in the Myakka City area face somewhat different challenges than the stations closer to Lakewood Ranch. The firefighters must cover greater distances on their calls in the rural area.
Due to that greater distance, Rhodes said crews operate independently longer when they are in need of additional help.
“It’s just the way it is,” he said. “The guys know it. They accept it and embrace it, really.”
Firefighters at those stations obviously deal with more brush fires.
“We were very busy this year, we had a lot,” Rhodes said.
With the various concerns and increasing population, Rhodes said the stations in that area might need to host more firefighters.
Additional features being installed at Station 12 include a dedicated workout room for firefighters.
An office space alongside the bunk rooms will be expanded, and will serve as a space for the firefighters to perform their online training required to maintain their EMT certifications.
A door in the kitchen will be closed off to make room for a third refrigerator.
Rhodes said other upgrades are likely to include fresh paint and new carpet. He said the project will take roughly five months.
Firefighter Freddie Townshend, who is based at Station 12, said the plan looks like a nice upgrade. He said the new workout room would serve as another getaway for the firefighters in-between their calls.
The remodel might be only a temporary fix as Rhodes said East Manatee Fire Rescue might look at a total renovation or replacement of the building in about seven years. Currently, firefighters must leave the station during hurricanes because the building doesn't have a high enough rating to withstand wind.
He said further upgrades would depend on the area's growth, along with other concerns.
Wren said a bigger renovation or replacement of Station 12 is not on East Manatee Fire Rescue's 5-year capital plan, but things could change.
“Those things are fluid," he said.
“Growth will determine what happens out here,” Rhodes said. “It’s growing so fast. It's crazy.”
For the immediate future, more attention will be placed on Station 11, which Rhodes said is “definitely at the end of the service life.
Rhodes said in the last six years, the rescue has built two stations and remodeled three. Station 7 on University Parkway and Lorraine Road opened in 2020, while Station 8 on Bourneside Boulevard opened in 2021.
The rescue also remodeled Station 3 on Rye Road, Station 4 on Town Center Parkway, and Station 6 near the intersection of State Road 70 and I-75.
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