Indiana, PA - Indiana County

Fire department finalizes purchase of downtown building

by on May 15, 2014 11:00 AM

Indiana Fire Association President Bill Simmons confirmed Wednesday the association has finalized the purchase of the former insurance office building at Fifth and Philadelphia streets.

S&T Evergreen has moved to the Wayne Avenue branch of S&T Bank.

“The 501 Philadelphia St. (building) is a great addition and future development site for a new fire station because of its ideal location,” Simmons said. “Our commitment is to the community and the residents we serve. This acquisition and the construction of a new facility will strengthen our ability to recruit, train and respond to emergency services for many years to come.”

[PHOTO: Indiana Fire Association Fire Chief Scott Schuller, right, and firefighter Mark Fox cut a hole in the roof of the building at 501 Philadelphia St. to practice gaining entry in the event of a fire. Demolition is to begin as early as this week. (Jamie Empfield/Gazette photo)]

Indiana architect Tom Harley is helping the IFA design its new fire station with groundbreaking to take place in the near future. Construction is expected to be completed in 18 to 24 months.

Until then, the IFA will continue to respond to alarms from its station along the 800 block of Water Street and the Indiana West station along Indian Springs Road, White Township.

Simmons said the fire department will move to the new location because it needs more space. A few years ago the department relinquished some of the space it had in the borough administration building that has also served as a fire station since the building opened in 1975.

“We can’t continue to develop and grow” in the current station, Simmons said.

“This property (at 501 Philadelphia St.) came available and S&T gave us a real good deal,” said Simmons, who is a vice president in the bank’s wealth management group.

Online documents at the Indiana County Office of Register and Recorder of Deeds show the purchase price was $420,000.

Simmons said the IFA has about 8,000 square feet of space in the Water Street station and will have about double that amount in the new L-shaped brick firehouse being designed. The new station will have four garage bays for firetrucks facing Philadelphia Street and three garage bays for other vehicles opening onto Nixon Avenue.

Simmons said a construction cost for the new station is not available yet, and the association plans to pay for its new building through grants and fundraising efforts.

“We’ll be front and center” and more visible in a station along Philadelphia Street, and that should help in recruiting new members and raising donations, Simmons said.

When Simmons joined the IFA in 1979 there were 300,000 volunteer firefighters in Pennsylvania. Now there are 50,000 in the state, he said.

The IFA’s organizational structure calls for 84 members and the department now has 60 members.

Fifteen of the members are Indiana University of Pennsylvania students who are firefighters in their hometowns and have joined the IFA while living in Indiana as students. Six of the student-firefighters live in the Indiana West station rent-free in exchange for their firefighting services.

Formed in 1878, the IFA responds to more than 550 alarms annually and protects about 45,000 people in Indiana, White Township and on the IUP campus.

With an annual operating budget of just over $500,000, the volunteer IFA is able to provide emergency services to the residents of the Indiana area at a savings of more than 85 percent of comparable cities with paid fire departments, according to Simmons.

Meanwhile, IFA firefighters used special power tools Tuesday to cut holes through the brick walls and the roof of the building they now own, using it as an opportunity for the firefighters to get some realistic training on breaching walls in the building.



Randy Wells has been a reporter and staff writer at The Indiana Gazette since 1988. His regular assignments include coverage of the Indiana County commissioners, Indiana Borough council and the Marion Center Area School District. His email address is rwells@indianagazette.net.
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