by Todd Feurer, CBS Chicago web producerBy CBS 2 Chicago Staff

CHICAGO (CBS) — City officials on Wednesday celebrated the opening of the largest firehouse in the city, a $30 million state-of-the-art facility in West Pullman that nearly brought Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) to tears, after more than 15 years of trying to get a new fire station built on the Far South Side.

“It will stand as a beacon of light for this community and the surrounding community,” Austin said. “This is a safe haven for our community.”

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The firehouse at 1024 W. 119th St. will be the new home for Engine Company 115; and houses two fire engines, one tower ladder, two advanced life support ambulances, a radio communications tower for the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications, an EMS field chief, and a deputy district chief.

“This firehouse is beautiful, state of the art, and what the community from the Far South Side has needed for more than a couple of decades, and more importantly what it deserves,” said Fire Commissioner Richard Ford II.

The facility will replace the existing Engine Company 115 firehouse at 119th and Peoria.

Austin, who was hospitalized with COVID-19 last year, said the men and women of Engine Company 115 saved her life by getting her to the hospital.

“When they came to my home, and I saw the firemen and the ambulance, it was like ‘I”m going to be alright, because I’m in the arms of those that car about me,” she said. “The young man said, ‘Alderman, you’re in good hands. We’re going to take care of you.’ They did.”

Austin said the same firehouse also tried to save the life of her late husband, former Ald. Lemuel Austin, when he suffered a heart attack in 1994.

The mayor’s office said the firehouse is located to allow for rapid response to both Interstate 94 and Interstate 57, while enhancing overall coverage of the Far South Side, which has not seen a new multi-apparatus firehouse in decades. Its radio communications tower also will reduce dead spots in police and fire communications that have been reported in the past.

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“Nothing can lead to tragedy more than a gap in communication, and this new facility will help enhance communications for both police and fire departments,” Ford said.

Ford, who is stepping down on Friday when he reaches the department’s mandatory retirement age of 63, said he’s thankful the city was able to open the firehouse before he leaves his post.

“I am extremely appreciative of the teamwork and collaboration that took place to take an ideal and turn that ideal into a reality,” Ford said. “Firehouses are not just brick and mortar. They’re safe havens for the communities that they sit in.”

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the project also serves as an example of how the city can accomplish the goals of both improving safety and providing jobs and economic vitality to the community.

Lightfoot said the project placed a special emphasis of employing people of color and women throughout the design and construction of the firehouse.

According to the mayor, more than 55% of businesses involved in the project were minority-owned and women-owned businesses, and 15 skilled trade workers from West Pullman, Roeland, Washington Heights, and Morgan Park were part of the construction team.

Public Buildings Commission executive director Carina Sanchez said approximately $12 million worth of work wen to 17 African American design and construction firms, about $1.7 million went to seven Latino construction firms, and approximately $560,000 went to five women-owned businesses.

The mayor’s office said the facility includes several unique systems designed to enhance safety and operational efficiency:

  • Exhaust removal for each apparatus on the floor.
  • Door position sensors to operate internal signals to let drivers know when safe to enter or exit to prevent door involved accidents and not allow a door to close while a vehicle is on the threshold.
  • Strobe lights will actuate outside the firehose to warn traffic on 119th as apparatus leave the firehouse on emergency runs and thereby improve response times.
  • Motion sensors to turn off lights in areas not occupied.
  • Use of windows placement to allow natural lighting with issues of direct sunlight.
  • Two retention ponds to control water runoff and control loading of the city sewer system.
  • ADA Compliant Privacy Room acoustically isolated from the rest of the house.
  • A self-contained back-up power generation.
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CBS 2 Chicago Staff