Cary tests ‘green’ tech in new fire station

akenney@newsobserver.comJune 23, 2013 

  • About the firehouse

    How big is it? 14,000 square feet

    How many firefighters work there? 15

    What did it cost? $5.9 million

    What makes it special? Energy-saving features such as solar-powered hot water and photovoltaic panels that will provide 13 percent of the station’s power.

    What neighborhoods does it serve? West Cary along Green Level Church Road, including Amberly, Cary Park and Highcroft.

— The huge red doors of Cary’s newest firehouse unfolded on Wednesday to reveal more than just fire trucks. The systems and materials of the station on Mills Park Drive could be a model for the next generation of town facilities.

Fire Station 8, on the town’s western frontier, is Cary’s first “green-built” project, according to town staff. Its crew of 15 firefighters will put a solar-assisted hot-water system through its paces, while the power bills will measure the effect of the first town-owned photovoltaic system and a set of energy-efficient lights.

The opening ceremony on Wednesday for the $5.9 million building was a milestone in the town’s push for energy efficiency, which has included an emphasis on emergency services.

“A fire service building is an interesting building, from a municipal perspective,” said Emily Barrett, Cary’s sustainability manager. “It does operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which means that it does consume quite a bit of energy.”

And that makes the “Climate Showcase Fire Station” a good test for some of the new technologies the town may adopt. In all, Cary spent $215,000 to outfit the building with its energy-saving features; $115,000 came from a larger U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant.

The energy savings could power 26 homes. Meanwhile, Cary could recover the extra costs within five to seven years through lower bills, staff estimate. The performance of this station could shape how the town sees future projects.

“We’re really proud of looking at projects with a life cycle cost lens from the beginning,” Barrett said. The new building is not certified by LEED, the rating system of the U.S. Building Council; the town declined to file, as the extra costs would have totaled about $35,000.

The new fire house comes as part of a broader push for efficiency in emergency services. So far, Cary’s half-million-dollar EPA grant also has funded research into projects to improve vehicle fuel usage, as well as an energy-reduction contest in the Cary Fire Department. (The winning station reduced usage by 16 percent.)

Improved service

On Wednesday, a ribbon cutting, a performance by the Cary Town Band and remarks by town officials and congressional staffers marked the completion of the new building. Soon after, scores of people flooded in for a tour of the two-story, 14,000-square-foot fire station.

The visitors, most with children, explored the airy garage, peeked in on living quarters, checked out the fire pole and bathed in the glow of 360 square feet of stained glass windows. The handblown windows, installed by California artist Arthur Stern in the stairwell tower, are dotted by symbols of fire, water and fallen firefighters; the art element cost $100,000.

With operations in the new firehouse slated to begin this summer, western Cary should soon see improved fire response times. The town has added 15 firefighters to its payroll to staff the new station, and its new company has been training for months.

“Engine 8 has been studying the streets, riding through the area, and responding to calls,” said Chief Allan Cain. The new company has worked out of the near-by Fire Station 7, which has until now been responsible for the Fire Station 8 district.

Cary likes to see its trucks on scene within five minutes in 90 percent of calls, but it has only met that deadline in about half the recent calls from the Fire Station 8 district.

Kenney: 919-460-2608 or twitter.com/KenneyOnCary

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