Business Community Speaks out in Favor of Station #1

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This editorial as seen in the Roanoke Times on September 1, 2005 was written by Mark McConnel. Mark is a member of a Community Committee who got together to keep Fire Station #1 open as it stands now. It is amazing at the response that this group has gotten from business owners, citizens, and activists in support of their cause. If you would like more information contact or call 540-344-1742.
Mark C. McConnel
McConnel is the former chairman of the Roanoke Arts Commission, an architect, a planner and spokesperson for Save Our Station #1, a group interested in maintaining fire service in the historic Fire Station No. 1.
Why are we moving firefighters out of Fire Station No. 1 and seeking to build a new station on the corner of Elm Avenue and Franklin Road? A group of concerned residents is seeking an answer to this question and a halt to this direction. Joining this effort are the Roanoke Fire Fighters Association, IAFF Local 1132, The National Trust for Historic Preservation, The Roanoke Valley Preservation Foundation and The Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities. The Roanoke city administration has, once again, made several significant decisions without seeking input from its residents and affected employees.
Fire Station No. 1 is on the National Register of Historic Buildings and is the oldest operating fire station in Virginia (and one of the oldest in America). The National Trust recommends that fire stations be established or maintained in historic districts due to rapid response needed for older structures. The downtown location is preferred because downtown buildings are closer together, older buildings are built with more combustible materials, the population downtown is elevated during the day, and the increase in buildings being built or remodeled for residential use increases the need for a downtown station.
Station No. 1 can accommodate every piece of fire apparatus the city owns and everything we are likely to purchase. A tractor-drawn “tiller” ladder truck is the most maneuverable, tallest and the best choice for a downtown location. Ladder 1 is one of these trucks.
Attachment to the station is not simply nostalgic. We are fortunate to have an operating historic firehouse in a strategic location. If it no longer functioned, there would be no argument, but Fire Station No. 1 is very inexpensive to maintain and requires minimal annual investment of taxpayer money. Roanoke firefighters have repeatedly stated that the station is well located, in good working condition, can accommodate necessary equipment and is a good place to work. Why would the city abandon a fully functioning fire station in the heart of downtown?
In addition to the obvious benefits listed above, Fire Station No. 1 is a working museum that costs the city no additional funds and provides the opportunity for tours to a variety of groups as well as passers-by interested in a piece of Roanoke’s history. (It is listed on as a historic site to visit.) The station contributes to the overall character of our city, which translates to dollars invested by people who chose to relocate or open a business here, largely because they love the overall “feel of the place.” Why would any city seek to close such an asset? One person, upon hearing that the city planned to close the station, quipped, “Have they been missing the meetings on downtown revitalization?”
The city just spent a considerable sum repairing the historic shell of Station No. 1 — repairs that should last for another 100 years. Why would we walk away from this money? The new station will cost more than $4 million. In addition to fire service questions, this issue is, at its core, a money issue. The soil at the proposed site is contaminated and is not suitable for residential use, yet the plan is for our firefighters to live there. Is this not a residential use?
Common sense also makes one wonder why we would locate a specialized public service building on one of the prime commercial corners in our city. The investment potential of this corner is high and makes this location far better suited for commercial (tax-paying) use.
The residents of Roanoke are not likely to allow the city to completely abandon the present historic site, resulting in expenses for its continued maintenance. There are no definite plans for Fire Station No. 1 once the station is abandoned, although there have been references to a possible museum. The National Trust for Historic Preservation recommends that historic structures maintain their original operation if at all possible. The trust’s data indicate that small historic buildings converted into museums have a very high rate of failure.
The Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities stated that “Fire Station No. 1 is emblematic of the city’s dedication to the district. Consolidating these services outside the neighborhood could adversely affect the perception of the city’s commitment to downtown and the market area” — this at a time when the city has decided to pour more than $100,000 on another consultant to discern how to better develop and expand this already successful area.
The evidence clearly indicates that the plan to remove fire service from Station No. 1 is flawed and would result in excess expenditures, less effective fire service and loss of other key benefits for all Roanokers.
Citizens who would like to keep the station in operation are urged to contact members of Roanoke City Council and our organization by e-mail at or by phone at 540-344-1742.

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