Groundbreaking set Saturday for fire station in Findlay's Imperial section

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The Imperial Volunteer Fire Department in Findlay is set to build its first new headquarters in 55 years and to move into the station in June.

A groundbreaking will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday for construction of a $1.1 million fire station. Township officials and firefighters will participate in the ceremonial event.

Building plans are not impacted by Monday’s charges against a former fire department president accused of stealing more than $5,700 in cash from fundraisers.

“It’s a little bit of a dark cloud, but it hasn’t stopped us at all,” Assistant Fire Chief Bob Lambert said. “It won’t affect us at all with this new building. We’re moving forward.”

The 10,400-square-foot station, planned for 111 Pine St. near the Findlay Township Activity Center, will be the third headquarters in the department’s 90-year history.

The more modern, spacious facility will replace the 5,600-square-foot, three-bay station at 115 Main St. in Imperial.

“We’ve been trying to get into another location, I would say, every bit of 20 years,” Mr. Lambert said. “It’s been a dream.”

In 1999, Findlay donated the 1.5-acre site of the former West Allegheny High School to the fire department for the station.

Airport Contractors Inc. of Crescent will install a steel building with four truck bays, storage space, offices, a lounge, a kitchen and a training/meeting room that can accommodate about 100 people.

Plans include an adjacent parking lot and energy-efficient systems for lighting and for heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

Mr. Lambert said the design of the new station offers more flexibility and better truck access.

“We have a lot more room to maneuver our vehicles, and it’s a lot safer for us,” he said.

The department is negotiating with a potential buyer of the Imperial station, Mr. Lambert said. He declined to disclose the sale amount until the deal was final.

The building budget includes a short-term loan, money from the pending sale of the old facility and money earned through fundraisers, he said.

“We’ve had lots of fish fries, lots of carnivals,” Mr. Lambert said. “We’ve saved our money and been frugal.”

The Allegheny County district attorney’s office charged ex-president Chester Yurkovich, 56, of Findlay with stealing $5,779 from the fire department, including cash from community fundraisers.

Mr. Lambert said that nearly a year ago, in February 2013, the fire department suspended Mr. Yurkovich and gave the district attorney evidence of cash discrepancies.

“Everyone works hard to raise this money, and everyone gives us money, and you have a person who’s dishonest and takes advantage of you, naturally you want that person punished to the fullest extent of the law,” Mr. Lambert said.

“He was in our fire department for 15 years, and we all trusted him. We trusted him like our brother.”

Mr. Lambert hoped the fire company would get back the money, which should have been deposited into the fire department’s checking account.

Imperial firefighters looked forward to building the new station and starting a new chapter in the fire department’s history, which began in 1924.

Henry Moore, 79, of Findlay has experienced firsthand much of that history. Having joined the department in 1955 after returning from army service in Korea, he is the third-most senior Imperial firefighter.

A retired tractor-trailer driver and a former Imperial fire chief, from 1971 to 1985, Mr. Moore still answers fire calls, drives firetrucks and pumps water.

“Gotta be in your blood, that’s the only thing I know,” Mr. Moore said, explaining why he’s stayed with the department for nearly 60 years.

According to Mr. Moore, the fire department began in 1924 as part of the Montour Valley Fire Department. The first firehouse, built in 1931, was a two-bay garage on Main Street, across from Valley Presbyterian Church.

In 1936, members revised their charter and formed the Imperial Volunteer Fire Department, he said.

In 1956, firefighters bought the Main Street property and reused the brick facade and floor of a fallen bus garage to build part of a new fire station.

“It was all donated labor, all donated by the firemen,” Mr. Moore said. “We spent about $11,400 on materials to build, and we had donated lumber.”

In 1959, they moved in, and they have been there ever since.

Firefighters said the old station lacks space for meetings, storage and parking. Its garage doors are too low to fit some modern trucks, and the second floor lacks accessibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The new facility, on the other hand, will greatly reduce utility bills, offer convenient parking and provide taller garage doors.

“It’s very hard to get our big trucks in and out of our garages on Main Street,” Mr. Moore said. “And there’s nowhere to wash them.”

The garage doors are about 2 feet shy of fitting Imperial’s aerial truck, which has a tall ladder for reaching high buildings, Mr. Moore said.

The aerial truck has been kept in the garage of the Westbury substation on Aten Road since 1995, he said.

A second substation is on Matchette Road in Clinton.

The fire department is paying for construction of the new Imperial station.

In 2010, the township kicked in a one-time contribution of $30,000 for the project design.

In addition, every year the township allocates $30,000 to the fire department for capital costs such as vehicle and equipment purchases, and donates some money toward operating expenses.

The operating contribution this year totals $189,690, a 5 percent increase over 2013, township manager Gary Klingman said.

The Imperial fire department has about 55 members, including active volunteer firefighters and social members, Mr. Lambert said.

The fleet includes four engines, two brush trucks, three squad trucks, a chief’s car and an all-terrain vehicle with a 16-foot hauling trailer.

The department covers Findlay and provides mutual aid to neighboring communities and to Pittsburgh International Airport.

Andrea Iglar, freelance writer:

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