Waco Fire Station No. 6 doesn’t look like much, but it punches above its weight.
The low-slung brick building at 2800 Bosque Blvd. was built 77 years ago and today it’s the smallest of the Waco Fire Department’s 15 stations. Its accommodations are bare-bones, and its two bays are so small that firetrucks have to be specially designed to fit.
But it’s also one of the busiest stations, responding to 62 percent of structure fires in the city. That makes it an exciting and rewarding place to work, station Capt. Ben Samarripa said.
“Even though it’s a small station, we love it,” Samarripa said. ”We’re really in the heart of the city. We don’t like going to fires. Obviously, someone’s having a bad day. On the other hand, fires are going to happen, and we might as well be the ones to go put them out.”
Now city officials are considering replacing Station No. 6 as part of a citywide program to build new fire stations over the next five years to modernize facilities and improve response times.
Waco Fire Chief Bobby Tatum said the department this year will be looking for a site of an acre or more in the neighborhood around the existing Station 6 to build a station that’s bigger and more modern.
Under the same plan fire officials are proposing, Fire Station No. 5 at 2624 Speight Ave. would be relocated into a new building somewhere around New Road and Bagby Avenue to position it closer to Central Texas Marketplace, Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest Medical Center and other growth along South Interstate 35. The existing Station No. 5 is almost 60 years old, and moving it would not hurt response times in South Waco, Tatum said.
“It really benefits citizens that we can move the station to another location,” Tatum said. “That keeps us from having to build a new fire station.”
Both stations could be built in the next couple of years, depending on Waco City Council’s direction. Within the next five years, the plan also calls for a new station, called No. 16, near Panther Way and Ritchie Road, where residential development is booming.
Combined with a major renovation to the downtown fire administration building, which was built in 1932, the five-year plan would cost about $8 million.
But Tatum said he wants to move forward with buying land for all three stations in the coming year. He has budgeted $500,000 for Station No. 5 in the New Road area, $150,000 for Station No. 6 in North Waco and $300,000 for the Ritchie Road station.
“We’re wanting to buy the land now,” he said. “If we wait until it’s developed, the price will go up.”
Stations 5 and 6 would cost $2.5 million each to build, while the Ritchie Road facility would cost an estimated $1.8 million, fire officials said.
The recommendations are based on a 2015 station-location study that mapped travel times from firehouses, with a goal of reaching buildings within four minutes. While most of Waco met that standard, some fast-growing areas around Loop 340 and Interstate 35 were listed as an emerging “area of concern.”
Tatum said the Ritchie Road area doesn’t yet have the call volume to justify a new fire station, but the area is rapidly developing. For example, home construction is now in full tilt at the new Park Meadows subdivision on Ritchie Road, which has 1,500 lots.
Councilman John Kinnaird, whose district includes the Ritchie Road and New Road areas, said fire facilities and equipment are a high priority for him.
“I do feel like public safety is broadly important, and fire stations are definitely part of that,” Kinnaird said. “Citizens expect us to provide them a level of service that keeps them safe. We want to make sure our response times are more than adequate.”
However, Kinnaird said he is concerned that legislation that has passed the Texas Senate to cap cities’ tax revenues could jeopardize the ability to provide some of those essential services.
Councilman Dillon Meek, who represents North Waco, said it’s high time to replace Station No. 6.
‘We can do better’
“I can only imagine that Bosque was a very different street when that was put in,” Meek said. “To be able to start again with a 2017 design would be beneficial. I don’t think it takes an engineer or expert to look at that fire station and say, ‘We can do better than that.’ . . . I do think we’re going to improve our firefighters’ ability to do their job well.”
Fire officials say the new Station No. 6 would have three full-size bays, one more than the existing station, allowing room in the future for more and larger equipment. It would also have more room for training and a meeting room that could be used for community events.
Meek said he would like to see the new station on the 25th Street commercial corridor, where it could play a part in the area’s redevelopment.
“Having a public space people could take pride in could be a catalyst for other development,” he said. “That is going to create not only a feeling of safety but a beautiful development.”
As humble as the current Fire Station No. 6 may be, Samarripa said he doesn’t spend time wishing for a larger, more modern building. The existing building has low ceilings, dated plywood paneling, a tiny kitchen and cots with peeling paint — much shabbier than his former digs at Fire Station No. 1 on Elm Avenue.
“I came from the biggest station to the smallest station,” Samarripa said. “But even with this small station, we love it. It’s as basic as you can get for a fire station. But keeping it squared away is easy. . . . Sometimes being in a big station isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. You have more to take care of.”
But he said it will be nice to have more room for firefighters to study for exams, to meet privately with superiors and to work out on weights.
Tatum said he thinks the firefighters will gain from a new station, but they don’t complain about what they have.
“They really take pride in this station,” Tatum said. “As you can see, it’s an older station, but they keep it clean. They would fight moving. I’m going to have to twist their arms to get them to move.”