Who knew Davenport's Fire Chief Lynn Washburn was a history buff? On a tour of Central Fire Station this week, her excitement showed, not just for what's coming to the 113-year-old facility but for what's being saved.
Start with the bricks.
How about that blazing 103-degree high on July 1, 1956? A firefighter wrote that in chalk on a brick inside the maintenance shop in back of the station.
Firefighters etched decades of history in chalk.
"The fire service is so broad in its tradition and history," Washburn said. "That's why we keep so much. That's who we are."
The back wall of the original station built in 1901 — the one with an old "no parking" sign — will be converted into a new entry way as part of a $15.2 million renovation project the Davenport City Council is expected to approve Wednesday night. Washburn said the wall and sign will be saved.
"This wall will be there to speak about the past," she said.
An addition that was built onto the back in the 1940s that houses the maintenance shop, offices and a classroom is expected to be demolished in May. Maintenance and all those chalked-on bricks will relocate to the original station, minus a long, wooden work bench built into the space.
"We can't save everything," Washburn said.
A rectangular two-story building with five fire engine bays will replace the 1940s addition, creating an "L" with the original station. The city's Communication Director Jennifer Nahra said construction of the new addition is expected to begin in July but may be pushed back based on timing of the bid process.
According to an artist's rendering, the new bays open to 4th Street but are set back to give engines ample space to pull out onto the street.
A portion of a city parking lot on 3rd Street will make way for a new driveway so returning engines can pull into the garage from 3rd Street without backing up, as they do now.
Washburn said in her three years as fire chief, no one hit the side of the garage backing a rig into it from 4th Street. But safety has been a huge concern, as motorists do not always obey the traffic light in front, she said.
That light will go away, and the light at 4th and Ripley streets will be controlled at the station, Washburn said.
The three-bay garage in the original station still will be used to house the fire boat, air van and brush rig.
"We don't want to give up our designation as the oldest operating fire station this side of the Mississippi," Washburn said.
The station was built at a time when horses pulled the fire apparatus, Davenport historian Karen Anderson said.
Also at that time, individual fire companies with their own "stations" competed with one another for business, Anderson said. Davenport had four or five companies.
"Volunteer fire units were paid a little fee to put out a fire," she said. "Companies beat each other up on their way to a fire. It was quite the team sport."
After several decades, the competing nature of volunteer units didn't work, and city leaders got together to decide on a unified station.
Architect Gustav Hanssen designed the station using elements of both Italianate and Classical Revival styles. The facility was built at 4th and Scott streets because the center of downtown in those days was a little farther to the west than it is now, Anderson said.
It opened in 1902 and has been operating since.
Washburn said the renovation will enhance some of the original station's historic features, such as the wood ceiling, the staircase leading to the second floor and the oval windows. She wants a garage door that opens to Scott Street converted to a window styled after what used to be there.
Overall Central Fire will double in size. The bedroom on the second floor of the original building will move to the second floor of the new addition to make way for expanded administrative offices.
The new bedroom will be split between men and women. Men and women have had to share the bedroom in the old station for as long as there have been female firefighters, with only partitions separating the beds.
Firefighters still will get to slide down poles from the bedroom to the garage below, but they won't be the brass poles that have ushered them along for more than a century. Washburn said she would like to preserve at least one of those old brass poles in the administration area.
A lounge is being relocated and expanded in the new addition as well as classroom space for training and office space so district chiefs can write their reports.
An elevator will be installed to make the administrative portion of the station more inviting and disabilities act-compliant, Washburn said.
The renovated station is expected to improve response times by straightening out some of the narrow, zigzagging hallways that make up what Washburn calls "the maze."
"There will be much better travel paths," she said. "A few seconds makes a big difference."