Saginaw Fire Department seeing major improvements

By NEAL WAGNER / Managing Editor

SAGINAW – Jim Chambers, a member of the Saginaw Volunteer Fire Department’s Board of Directors who has been involved at the department since the mid-1990s, has seen both the good days and the bad days at the department.

Over the past several years, the department had seen somewhat of a downward slide, as volunteer numbers dwindled and the condition of the fire station on Shelby County 26 deteriorated.

But on Oct. 18, Chambers said the good days were definitely starting to return.

“I’m pretty proud of our guys right now,” Chambers said as he took a look at the plethora of activity going on at the station.

Over the course of several months, the department has seen its volunteer number double to about 16, has held a successful donation drive in the community, has greatly improved its response time and has secured a $65,000 grant to purchase nine new self-contained breathing apparatuses.

The grant will help replace the outdated breathing equipment the firefighters are using now, and the department is currently finalizing the vendor selection process for the new devices.

“When we won that grant, it was like switch got thrown,” said Ron Luebke, the chairman of the department’s Board of Directors. “It’s been like a snowball effect since then.”

Several weeks ago, the department examined its building, which was built in the early 1980s, and found several areas in need of significant repair. An improperly installed window air conditioning unit in the department’s meeting room had led to a structurally unsound wall, the bathroom was in need of significant repair and overgrown vegetation behind the building needed to be cut, among other smaller projects.

“Like a lot of volunteer departments, the members just did what they could do over the years, but that led to a lot of Band-Aids,” Luebke said. “A lot of people thought the department was abandoned.”

The department’s recent successful crawfish boil fundraiser and a donation drive raised enough money to cover a significant amount of the renovation work happening at the building today, while the department had enough saved up over the years to cover the remainder.

Help from Lowe’s, Phillips Construction and Central State Bank also aided in making the project a reality.

“We had a significant amount of money in the bank, quite frankly from just not spending it,” Luebke said. “So we said, ‘Let’s keep enough to cover our operating expenses and use the rest to fix this place up.’”

On Oct. 18, the first phase of the renovation work, which included updates and repairs in the meeting room, chief’s office, bathroom and several smaller items such as the flagpole, front door and lighting, was nearly complete.

“For the first time in at least five years, all three of our fire vehicles are running at the same time,” Luebke said. Phases two and three will cover renovations to the vehicle bay and bunk area, respectively, and will begin shortly, he said.

The recent activity at the department has had a positive impact on its service to its coverage area, which primarily includes properties and woodlands between Alabaster and Columbiana, Luebke said.

“At one point, our response time was probably 20 or 30 minutes. It has gotten closer to six or seven minutes now,” Luebke said, noting the department responds to about 160 emergency medical and between 20 and 30 fire calls each year. “We want to actually repair the department and get it to a level that people have confidence in it. No more Band-Aids.”

The department’s Board of Directors consists of Luebke, Chambers, Greg Cumbey, John Reddy and Eddie Bolen. It’s fire chief is Jim Henderson and the assistant chief if Tammy Luebke.

Ron Luebke said the department is always looking for more volunteers, and said it will provide all necessary training for anyone interested in serving.