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Nokomis VFD to get new home

Jerry Gehman stands in front of the crowded Nokomis fire station.

Nokomis Volunteer Fire Department has outgrown its headquarters, but the crowded conditions that currently exist might become a thing of the past in the near future.

The all-volunteer fire suppression and emergency response group has received pre-approval for a federal grant-loan that will pay for most of the construction of a new station.

“We’re passing the hat,” said local businessman Jerry Gehman, who is a captain with the department. “We had applied for and gotten pre-approved through the U.S. Department of Agriculture under the rural development grant-loan program and we’re exercising that.”

Gehman said the program allows for 35 percent of a loan to be considered a grant if the applicant meets certain criteria.

“In this loan program, based on the average income of the households (in the Nokomis Fire District), they will grant up to 35 percent of the loan to you,” he explained. “We qualified for the full 35-percent grant, so that will give us about $65,000-70,000 off the $199,000 loan, and that’s awesome. The beautiful thing about this is that it’s a fixed, 40-year note at 2.75 percent. This really is a great deal from USDA, from a business perspective.”

A peek inside the NVFD’s James Road headquarters building, which is also used as a polling place for elections and as a community meeting place, will provide plenty of proof that a new station is needed.

“We are so crowded that we have to leave the bathroom door open to park our ladder truck inside,” said Gehman. “When that truck is inside, the ladder sticks into the bathroom. The ladder also almost hits the roll-up door at the front. We also have a four-wheel drive brush-fire fighting apparatus, and it used to sit on a trailer. But we have no room inside for the trailer. When we have an election, we have to pull all the trucks out of the station so we’ll have room for the voters and poll workers.”

Officials of Nokomis VFD looked at the possibility of expanding the roughly 1,650 square-foot space, as well as the possibility of constructing a new station in front of the existing one. Neither plan was deemed feasible, leaving NVFD officials to search further for a solution.

“We’ve looked at expanding this existing pole barn,” the volunteer fire captain said. “The only problem is, we have a deep cleft on one side and we don’t physically have the room for expansion. We could build another building in front of it, but that would just be putting lipstick on a pig.”

He said several factors would come into play with regard to funding the project, for which the land has already been tentatively purchased.

“We have a loan for almost $200,000 and we’ve been able to put back about $20,000 in a building fund, so we have some money saved up,” Gehman pointed out. “Also, we already have another fire department here in the county that has allowed us to have their blueprints for a five-bay fire department. They’re stamped drawings, and we have permission to use them, so we don’t have to go through the architects for design.

“We’ve come to an agreement to purchase the land where the fire department will be (three acres along Pineville Road that has for decades been planted in cotton), as soon as the crop is off it. We’ve gone through the USDA’s channels of historic review, agricultural review, etc. That’s where we are. We’re excited about it, but a lot of things still have to be done to make this come to fruition.”

He added that the plan to provide better and roomier quarters for the district’s fire department, a move that will generate speedier responses to emergency situations, will require some blind faith on his part, as well as the two other, unnamed, NVFD officials who will co-sign the USDA note.

“We’re moving down the road,” he said, both literally and figuratively. “When the crops come off the field, we’ll proceed with the land acquisition, and that executes the loan so we can start building the new station (which is expected to encompass about 5,000 square feet). I’ll sign my life away, along with two others, for 40 years because we care.”