WILLIAMSON COUNTY, TEXAS - The city of Round Rock got creative to fix the problem of fire service being cut off to more than 4,000 homes.
After learning about the closure of Old Settler's bridge over I-35 for renovations, city officials decided to turn a residential home into a fire station.
"It feels like home, it feels a little more like home,” said Fire Chief Robert Isbell.
The city already owned the two and a half acres, with hopes to build a new future fire station. But plans changed after they saw the 3,000 square foot home.
"We came over and got to looking around... Once we walked through the house, it just really jumped out that this could be a fire station,” said Isbell. "All the stars aligned and this place happened."
Isbell gave KVUE a tour of the new fire house Monday.
"To have a really nice big dining area with a fire place, with windows that open that you can see the creek, that really adds to the ambiance,” said Isbell.
The home has a weight room and locker room.
"We brought over lockers from one of the old stations that we had,” said Isbell.
There are offices, bathrooms, a kitchen, dining area and bedrooms.
"From the bedrooms here they've got quick access to the truck that's sitting out front,” said Isbell.
The home even has a backyard that backs up to a creek.
"It's peaceful,” said Isbell. "When you look at the views out back, for them to be able to come back from a call, a tough call, and to be able to debrief, or decompress and be able to sit on the back porch, and just listen to the creek, it's got to make a difference."
Lieutenant Nolan Nichols told KVUE he enjoys being stationed here.
"It doesn’t feel like a commercial property it feels like home,” said Nichols. "I thought it was a very creative solution."
Nichols showed KVUE the home’s TV room.
"This is our day room, this is where we hang out and spend time when we're not on calls,” said Nichols.
Each shift has three fire fighters who make coffee, cook and watch TV together.
"You already feel like they're your family, you know so, your home away from home, being in a house definitely adds to that,” said Nichols. "All of us like being here. We take a lot of pride in this being our fire house, so we all are really happy to come to work at this fire house.”
Isbell said the kitchen is where the fire fighters really come together.
"The cooking, the kitchen table, that's not going away. The guys still cook, they eat together, bonding takes place there, and you heard these guys, they're still watching shows together,” said Isbell. "The guys love it. It's home.”
But, Isbell said they still have room to grow. He said they could even house EMS at the house.
"They've always got an open invitation to come here as well,” said Isbell.
Still, the house has memories from the previous family who called it home. A handprint placed on a concrete step and The Bradley last name still hangs on the front door.
Firefighters said they want to protect memories like this at the homes of their new Round Rock neighbors.
"We want to make sure all the folks in the neighborhood know that we're just another neighbor,” said Isbell. "You can always call on us, come see us and visit because we're your fire station.”
And he said they’ve already made friends.
"We've had great out pouring of support, folks coming over and bringing cookies and donuts,” said Isbell.
Chief Isbell said they plan for this house to serve as a neighborhood fire station for the next 15 to 20 years.
"We went from talking about a temporary solution to now it's more permanent, this is a place we see lasting for 15 plus, 20 plus years,” said Isbell.
So far, the plan seems to be working.
Chief Isbell said they've already seen response times improve by about five minutes.
The cost of this project is about $250,000 dollars, which the city said is coming from leftover money from two other fire department projects. They say building a new one could cost a little more than $4 million dollars.
Isbell said they flipped the house in just about 2 months, including new technology and radio infrastructure to get the fire calls.
For much of the work like painting, fire fighters pitched in to help out.
But, they still have to do one final touch.
They plan to reconstruct the garage, so the fire truck can fit inside.
"We want it to blend with the house, it's a major component to this project, because everything else in this project was so seamless and we were able to kind of just move in, the garage is the part that's going to take some time and construction and navigation. We want to make sure we get it right that we have minimal impact to the environment, and that we do blend in with the neighborhood and that we keep the look of the house,” said Isbell.
When the garage is reconstructed, the bedrooms will move to the other side of the house. The place where the firefighters are sleeping now will turn into permanent offices.
"The future of this room will most likely be a bunk room because it puts them close to the fire trucks which will be in the garage right outside,” said Isbell as he showed KVUE the future room of the beds.
Isbell said they'll discuss that at a planning meeting Tuesday.
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