Augusta Fire Chief Roger Audette talks about the bigger truck bays in new addition during a tour on Friday May 3, 2019 at Hartford Fire Station in Augusta. The station, has been renovated and expanded, and is expected to reopen in June. (KJ photo by Joe Phelan/Staff Photographer)

Augusta’s Hartford Fire Station renovation, expansion, nearing completion

in Augusta/West Side

The next time firefighters head into Hartford Fire Station — about a month from now — they’ll be entering a building more than double its previous size.

Augusta’s Hartford Fire Station, seen Friday, has been renovated and expanded and is expected to reopen in June. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

Major renovation and an expansion of Augusta’s nearly 100-year-old Fire Department headquarters are almost complete.

The project initially was expected to wrap up by January, but a range of problems encountered during the project delayed it. Most notably, the temperature dropped too low too soon last fall to pave the area around the garage bays that will house firetrucks and ambulances. Final paving has to wait until warm weather returns this spring.

Last year firefighters and ambulance crews moved out of the 1920 station, which overlooks the city’s downtown riverfront from Rines Hill. Emergency personnel had to leave when it became unworkable to respond to calls from what had become a construction site.

Crews were moved to the city’s other stations on Bangor Street, Western Avenue and the relatively new North Station on Leighton Road while construction at Hartford commenced.

Preparing the project site was also more time-consuming than first expected, with contractors dealing with trolley tracks, old sidewalk materials and underground gas tanks. Putting in a connection for communications technology, also underground, also took longer than expected.

The original plan was to build the station addition and move firefighters into that when completed, with contractors then completing renovations to the older section. As it became more involved and without a final coat of pavement for the heavy firetrucks to drive over, the building has remained unoccupied during the work.

Augusta Fire Chief Roger Audette talks about the fire pole during a tour on Friday at Hartford Fire Station in Augusta. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan

When firefighters do move in, which Fire Chief Roger Audette estimates will occur in three to four weeks, they’ll find modern amenities and safety improvements await them both next to and inside the historic brick architecture of the original section of the building.

He said renovation to modernize and expand the cramped station had been discussed since at least around 1990. The station is, he said, ideally located to respond to emergencies in the heart of the city.

“Here we are, 30 years later, and it’s finally coming to fruition,” Audette said Friday during a brief tour of the station, as a moving crew began hauling furniture into the building. “It’s nice to think we’re finally getting there, getting in and having some room to move around the trucks, and not having to worry about hitting the doors when you’re going in and out. So many people are in close proximity to here. Operationally, this is the best place for us to be.”

The original garage bay doors of the older section of the station weren’t built with today’s larger firetrucks in mind, so some of the city’s trucks had only inches to spare on each side when backing into the station.

Now the city’s largest firetruck, its relatively new ladder truck, Tower 1, won’t have to back in at all, as two of the large bays of the addition have doors on both ends. That means larger trucks can drive in one side and out the other.