By Hiroko Sato


GROTON -- A hole in the ceiling over the bays of the Center Fire Station, which is under construction on Farmers Row, keeps Fire Chief Joseph Bosselait's head buzzing with ideas for firefighting drills.

Firefighters could put on a harness, descend on a rope through the hole from the storage mezzanine above the bays to practice confined-space rescues, Bosselait said.

They could also prop up a ladder against the wall outside the back staircases next to the bays and climb. They could spray as much water as they want inside the stairwell because grid stair treads will let water flow through.

The days when the local Fire Department scoured the region for buildings suitable for training will be over soon. The new fire station will contain plenty of space for the town's three dozen firefighters to practice scenarios while providing easy road access to respond to emergency calls, he said.

"It's exciting to get everything under one roof. Everybody will come to the center (of the town) and we will also have a quick response when a call comes in," Bosselait said.

Nearly three years after selectmen proposed relocating the firehouse from Station Avenue to elsewhere, the $5.9 million construction project is coming together, providing a new landmark on the scenic Farmers Row. The two-story station, totaling 18,500 square feet, is humble compared to grander ones in some other towns. But the structure uses the space effectively to meet the needs of first responders.

The storage mezzanine and the back stairwells double as a training center. The four-lane bays with space for eight trucks have doors on both its front and back so that all trucks can get out easily without having to move one parked in front of it. The living quarters with six bunk beds will allow firefighters to rest during a storm -- a change from sleeping in a chair at the crammed existing Center Fire Station on Station Avenue.

In addition, the building incorporates energy-efficient design and has a programmable, high-efficiency heating unit and a lighting system that shuts off automatically when unused.

The project started late April and is expected to be complete next May. Construction is moving along on schedule and slightly under budget, said Town Clerk Michael Bouchard, who serves on the Center Fire Station Building Committee.

The project costs $7.2 million when the price of the land and other costs are factored in. TLT Construction Corporation of Wakefield is the contractor.

Bouchard said the committee is happy with the progress. "There was a whole controversy about where to put (the fire station). We think we made the right decision," he said.

Selectmen initially proposed the station for the former Sacred Heart Church on Main Street. Town Meeting rejected the idea twice, criticizing the way selectmen handled the proposal and also expressing concern for the potential impact on the neighborhood. Some residents also argued against the Farmers Row location, saying it would ruin the scenic country view. But Bosselait said the new fire station allows easy road access. The structure also blends in with the surrounding landscapes, Bouchard said.

Construction crews are now ready to install vapor barriers around the windows. The plumbing is complete. The department plans to create a courtyard with a flagpole outside the main entrance and install a 280-pound piece of girder from New York's World Trade Center to create a memorial for Sept. 11 victims.

Visitors will see the old-fashioned firehouse pole behind a glass partition to the left of the front entrance. There is also a medical triage area near the entrance.