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Rural Ridge Fire Company plans to expand to house its equipment properly

| Thursday, March 28, 2013, 12:16 a.m.
Bill Shirley | For The Valley News Dispatch
Fire Chief Bob Ben hangs up equipment in the cramped changing area of the Rural Ridge Fire Company in Indiana Township on Friday March 22, 2013.
Bill Shirley | For The Valley News Dispatch
Past Fire Company President Andy Klebine does not have the space in the cramped garage are to open the doors on both trucks that are parked along side each other at the Rural Ridge Fire Company in Indiana Township on Friday March 22, 2013.
Bill Shirley | For The Valley News Dispatch
John Medred, president of the Rural Ridge Fire Company (left), past President Andy Klebine and fire Chief Bob Ben review blueprints on Friday March 22, 2013, in the area where the firehall expansion project will take place in Indiana Township .

When Rural Ridge volunteer firefighters respond to a call, the dangers they face can begin before they leave the firehall.

“If you can picture two large diesel trucks in one small room, you have only about 2 feet on either side and the back of the truck,” Rural Ridge president John Medred said. “There's a lot of health and safety issues for the members just being that close to the trucks when they are gearing up.”

Inhaling fumes from the diesel engines of the fire apparatus is a particular concern, he said.

That's one of the reasons why the 30-member Indiana Township fire company is undertaking a $330,000 construction project to expand the current firehall along Little Deer Creek Road.

“We currently have a single bay with a single door,” Medred said. “And with the trucks getting bigger, they outgrew the firehall.”

The current building is L-shaped, with the “L” facing the rear of the lot.

Medrad said the new addition will be a four-bay garage that will fill in that “L” and square off the building. It will be cement block construction and measure 45 feet deep by 65 feet wide.

That should provide plenty of room for the fire company's equipment, which includes a tanker truck, a fire engine, a squad truck and a rescue truck that officials expect to buy this year. The squad truck currently is housed in a shed behind the firehall.

“With us being one of the last stations to maintain a tanker, we have to look at replacing that in the next five to seven years,” Medred said, “and we needed to make sure we had the space to accommodate that.”

Construction of the addition should begin in April and could be done by the end of June.

In anticipation of the project, the heating, air conditioning and ventilation system and the electrical system in the firehall were upgraded last year.

“We had actually started this project about five years ago in the architect work, the planning and the engineering,” he said. “We started with the front part of our hall because everything for the new addition is going to be pretty much fed from the current building.”

The current firehall was built in 1964 and some additions were made in later, Medrad said. The main building was constructed for $40,000.

Andrew Klebine, who joined the fire company at age 16 and has been a member for 57 years, recalls the building the fire company occupied after it was formed in 1953.

“When I started out, the old firehall was across the alley from the one we have now,” he said. “It was an old mushroom-growing place and the rafters were half-rotted. It would have cost a fortune to remodel it.”

But getting a new one built was no easy task, according to Klebine.

“Back then, all we had for income was bingo,” Klebine said. “No bank would give us a loan. Back then, bingo wasn't considered an income to support a loan.”

Finally, he said an official at one of the banks in Tarentum, whose name he can't recall, “went way out on a limb” and signed off on a loan for the fire company.

The fire company no longer sponsors the Sunday afternoon bingos that paid for that loan. Instead, it will rely on a hefty schedule of spaghetti dinners, Lenten fish fries, and raffles along with its annual mail solicitation, Medred said.

“Times are very tough for the volunteer firefighters,” he said. “The money isn't there for them like it used to be. We send out about 800 mailers and we get, maybe, one-quarter of those returned.”

Financing is coming from a 2 percent loan through the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and a $145,000 loan through Volunteer Financial Services, which specializes in financing for volunteer organizations.

The fire company is putting down $40,000 of its own money, including a $13,000 PEMA grant it received to buy the latest engine exhaust-removal system, Medred said.

A public hearing on the financing proposal will be held Friday at 7 p.m. in the firehall.

Medred said the final phase of construction will be upgrading the restrooms in the current building to meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards for handicapped access.

“We're trying to make sure that all this falls in line with celebrating our anniversary and keeping the community in tune with everything we're doing,” Medred said.

Both Medred and Klebine said the fire company, one of three in the township, is important to the village of Rural Ridge and they believe the community will continue to support it.

Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 or tyerace@tribweb.com.

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