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Gainesville Fire Department relocates to new station
Gainesville Fire Department emergency medical technicians Cody Tucker, right, and Kris Buffington check medical equipment from one of the department’s trucks. The department moved into the new Station 1 on Wednesday at the public safety complex.

Fire Station 1 at Gainesville's new public safety complex is officially open for business.

Firefighters moved in their files and personal belongings on Wednesday and made the "last call" - a fire alarm for burned popcorn in a microwave at a nearby commercial building - at 4 p.m.

"Fire Station 1 at 118 Jesse Jewell Parkway is officially closed after 35 years, and Fire Station 1 at 725 Pine Street is officially open," Chief Jon Canada called into dispatch at 4:32 p.m. as he rode the last fire engine into the new building after the last call.

James "Babe" Campbell, a retired captain who was with the fire department for 31 years, rode on the last call with his son James, who joined the department in July. Campbell recalled when the department moved into the Jesse Jewell station.

"We moved out of the Green Street station, which was (not air-conditioned), into a nice new building with modern conveniences that we didn't have at that time in 1975," Campbell said. "That's when we were upgrading to the new trucks with diesel. There were a lot of changes."

Babe is proud of his son - known as "Precious" around the station - for following in his footsteps.

"I think it's great. It's a great career, and it's been an honor to come back and see the new guys and new equipment and new station," he said.

Though James Campbell Jr. just started his fire career a few months ago, he's excited to get into the new building.

"I grew up in Station 1 with my dad," he said. "It's nice to be in this big building. Instead of being in one big room to sleep, we have separate pods and dorm rooms, which is good for privacy and sleeping."

The transition was palpable Wednesday as firefighters walked around with smiles on their faces while testing the building's radio system, pulling in fire trucks for the first time and putting equipment in place.

"It's like having a new car. You're not sure what roads to take it on," Canada said. "The guys keep asking where to put things or ask if it's OK if they do something. This has been a long time running, and we're thrilled."

The new space will help with productivity and efficiency now that shift supervisors such as Lt. Joey Spain have their own offices and can close the door.

"I was sharing a small room with several other people, and now we can work on a project without being moved because someone needs to use the computer," he said. "It's wonderful being here. It's nice, neat and new."

The police and fire complex cost the city $20.4 million, and construction started in early 2009. Now that both departments are in new homes, city officials can move forward with the demolition of the old public safety building and start construction for the pedestrian bridge that will connect downtown to midtown and the greenway.

The new location is more convenient to major roads.

"Everyone knows Jesse Jewell is one of the largest traffic congestions in Gainesville, and although we still have to negotiate it, we aren't turning right onto it," Canada said.

As full-time operations start up at the new public safety complex, drivers should take note of the new stop signs and traffic signal in the area.

The intersections of High and Main streets and High and Grove streets are now four-way stops, and the flashing signal at Queen City Parkway and Summit Street will turn to full operation on Monday. When a fire truck leaves Station 1, the signal will stop all traffic to allow the truck to exit.

The floor plan was also designed to help response time. Built as a cube, all the hallways upstairs and downstairs connect in a big square, allowing firefighters to quickly run to the fire trucks no matter where they are in the building.

"It's built to be the most efficient and functional for what we do," Canada said. "It allows us to be efficient in travel, especially upstairs for the fire station, where they can get easy access to the bay."

And the easiest way to get downstairs? A twisting red slide that stands in place of the traditional fire pole, which is now prohibited because of liability concerns.

"It's better than Six Flags," Spain said. "It's really the fastest way to go downstairs."