Charlotte dedicates new fire department headquarters

Mass ribbon cutting on Saturday to officially open the new Charlotte Fire Department headquarters at 500 Dalton Ave.
Mass ribbon cutting on Saturday to officially open the new Charlotte Fire Department headquarters at 500 Dalton Ave. dperlmutt@charlotteobserver.com

Rich Granger, a Charlotte Fire Department deputy chief, remembers when children lined up behind a building on 500 Dalton Ave. to watch workers inside make ice cream.

Now the site that once held a Sealtest office and ice cream factory is where he works. On Saturday, fire department and city officials dedicated a new headquarters – the total project cost $16 million – that Granger and Chief Jon Hannan boasted will be home to the department for at least the next 100 years.

“We desperately try to build every building to last 100 years,” said Granger, who oversaw the project for the department.

The department still uses Station 5 on Wesley Heights Way and Station 6 on Laurel Avenue, both built in 1929 and both local historic landmarks.

Completion of the new headquarters was delayed 16 months after windows from a subcontractor were late and too small. Yet after the deadline, the contractor paid the city a penalty “so the project didn’t cost the city an extra dime,” Granger said.

The 36,000-square-foot headquarters, with its terrazzo tiles and birch ceiling tiles, houses offices for the chief and deputy chiefs, the fire prevention bureau, the IT division that cares for all computers and 911 dispatching equipment, and the department’s business side.

In all, 65 to 70 fire department employees – out of 1,172 – will work in the expandable building. Its lobby is something of a museum with antique fire trucks, including an 1866 Neptune hand-pumped engine that the department sold in 1902 but bought back from a Massachusetts museum 110 years later.

The department plans to build a 911 dispatch center behind the building.

It is only the city’s second fire department headquarters. The first was built in 1925 next to the old Charlotte City Hall at Fourth and Davidson streets. That was torn down in 1991, and the fire department administration worked out of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center and in leased spaces.

The fire department was asked to consider the old Sealtest site when it began looking for property for a new headquarters in 2010. Officials hope the building, built prominently on a rise between Statesville Avenue and North Graham Street, will draw development into an uptown pocket that badly needs it.

“It’s already paying off,” Granger said. “I can’t tell you how many times my phone rings asking how many people are in the building and how many are going to be in the 911 center out back. They’re already doing the calculations for the sandwich shops, the grocery stores, the coffee shops – everything this corridor desperately needs.”

The department looked at renovating the Sealtest building for its headquarters, but meeting new codes made it too expensive. So the architects borrowed some designs from that building and nearby buildings to allow the headquarters to blend into its surroundings.

Saturday’s dedication was a celebration of the new building and the fire department.

Charlotte Mayor Dan Clodfelter and city council members Michael Barnes, Al Austin and Patsy Kinsey praised the department’s first-responder work.

Kinsey said that 20 years ago, when she was a county commissioner, she rode along with a Medic team one day from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m.

“Every time we arrived at the location, our first responders, our firefighters, were there doing what needed to be done to ease the situation,” Kinsey said.

Perlmutt: 704-358-5061

Charlotte Fire Department in 2014

▪ Answered 200,000 911 calls – 99 percent within 10 seconds.

▪ Responded to 103,473 calls. The average response time: 4 minutes, 34 seconds.

▪ Completed 100 percent of state-mandated fire code inspections, including 42,000 inspections and 7,000 building-plan reviews.

▪ Arson investigations cleared 56 percent of fires, compared with 20 percent nationally.