The return of 51: MIFD dedicates newly rebuilt station

Lance Shearer

The fire-rescue department’s new fire station is also the old fire station.

Friday afternoon, in a ceremony attended by dignitaries from Tallahassee and the entire City Council, the Marco Island Fire-Rescue Department dedicated Station 51 on East Elkcam Circle. Originally built in 1965, Station 51 was Marco Island’s first fire station, but had fallen into disuse, was struck by lightning, and out of service since 1997, said Fire-Rescue Chief Mike Murphy.

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The almost $4 million rebuild of Station 51was paid for with $2.6 million from the city of Marco Island, a $1 million grant from the State of Florida, and the balance from an insurance settlement from the lightning strike. The 9,000-sq. ft. facility, designed by BSSW Architects, Inc. and built by DeAngelis Diamond Construction, is built to withstand a Category 5 hurricane. It is also just steps away from the slip where the department’s fire-rescue boat is kept.

After remarks by Murphy, State Representative Bob Rommel, and City Council Chair Erik Brechnitz, and a dedication by fire department chaplain Ray Munyon, assisted by local clergy, the nearly 100 visitors on hand trooped outside for a ceremonial ribbon cutting.

Dozens of pairs of scissors were employed, as all of the dignitaries and fire officials participated in snipping the broad red ribbon into sections that became keepsakes. Then the assemblage was invited upstairs for tours of the new facility. The station was still waiting for some fixtures, such as exercise equipment for the weight room, as well as the department flag recently flown on combat medical evacuation helicopter missions by the U.S. Army, and returned to the Marco signed by the Blackhawk crew. The flag is being framed to hang in Station 51, but the job was not complete in time for the dedication ceremony.

The newly renovated facility had that “new fire station smell,” and had not yet actually been put back into service. Tours included the firefighters’ lounge, with a semicircle of five comfortable recliners where on-duty personnel will spend downtime between calls, and the five bunk rooms where they will sleep during their 48-hours on, 24-hours off shifts.

Putting Station 51 back into use is just phase one of the department’s renovation plans – or maybe phase two, as the MIFD just took delivery of a new, $990,000 tower truck to replace their nearly 20-year-old Tower 50. With a vertical reach of 110 feet, the new tower truck “is the tallest in the county,” said Murphy.

Once Station 51 is up and running, plans call for the MIFD to raze Station 50, currently the primary fire-rescue facility, that stands adjacent to the police department and city hall at the intersection of Bald Eagle and San Marco Blvd. That will be replaced by a new facility, with total costs expected to be in the range of $8 million, said Murphy. Like Station 51, the rebuilt Station 50 is slated to be financed by a combination of city and state grant funds.

State Representative Bob Rommel, one of the legislators instrumental in securing state dollars for Station 51, and now for Station 50, noted that “appropriation requests are like sharks feeding on chum,” with a frenzy of politicians pushing their own pet projects. “We need to make sure we have the safest island in Florida, not just the prettiest.” He added that “everybody loves firefighters – not like legislators.”