Bethel Park Volunteer Fire Company’s Oct. 13 open house at the Brightwood Road station drew a healthy crowd of visitors throughout the day to participate in a variety of activities, especially those geared toward youngsters.
For those who wanted to take a closer look, the event offered an opportunity to see – and by extension, appreciate – a station that was built with meticulous attention to functionality and appearance, and with an eye toward it serving the community’s needs for a long time to come.
“You have to think ahead, 10, 20, 30, 40 years down the road: What makes sense? How much larger are you going to get?” Ed Schmidt, the company’s recording secretary, former president and 21-year member, explained.
As it stands, Bethel Park represents the largest all-volunteer firefighting unit in Allegheny County, and one that draws a considerable amount of support from local residents and businesses.
In 2013, a referendum calling for a tax increase to finance a new fire station passed overwhelming, and corporate sponsors have provided for quite a few of the features in the $8.2 million building, which opened in June 2016.
Planning started years before that, with Schmidt chairing a building committee that examined the company’s needs thoroughly, visited other stations for ideas and consulted with architects about integrating elements of a want list while remaining within budget. The committee eventually selected Pacheco Ross Architects, of Latham, N.Y., a firm strictly dedicated to Emergency Response Facility Design, and the Bethel Park firefighters enjoy showing it to their counterparts in the region.
“Since they built this, they’ve done other Pittsburgh-area fire stations,” Schmidt said.
Perhaps the most prominent Bethel Park feature is the four-story training tower, which allows firefighters to simulate rescues at tall buildings, including the ability to rappel some 40 feet. The closest facility offering something similar is the Allegheny County Fire Academy in North Park.
The Brightwood Road station also has numerous amenities to encourage members to spend time there so as to help expedite responses. That includes a gym, with a serious setup of equipment paid for by the Bethel Park Community Foundation.
“We figure, you have to stay healthy in this business,” Schmidt said.
The administrative area of the building includes a boardroom donated by Cool Springs, classroom to accommodate 22 people and conference room with a capacity of 72, adjoining a kitchen with the capability to provide food service should the station be used as an emergency shelter.
The vehicle area is accessed by doors that swing to the side, rather than being raised and lowered.
“When you have doors that go up and down, typically they’re covering two engine bays, which means that they’re very heavy doors. The maintenance on the springs was nonstop, Schmidt said. “When the spring would break, that door was out of commission. And when it’s covering two engine bays, now you have a problem of trying to get vehicles out, because you can’t open the door until it’s repaired.
“With these doors, even if the mechanism breaks, you can just pull the ropes and push the doors open.”
The floors are heated to help dry vehicles faster, and the drains are situated directly under where the vehicles are parked, further aiding in keeping the floor from accumulating excess moisture.
Along with the aspects of meeting the fire company’s operational needs, the building committee also took the community into consideration.
“We wanted to build a station that was a representation of Bethel Park,” noting that the color scheme and other elements mimic the municipality’s nearby community center. “The brick, stonework, the roof, everything matches their building, and that was done by design to keep the theme going.”