After more than two years of sitting vacant, the former Fitchburg Fire Station No. 2 on King James Way has a new purpose.
It will be the Dane County Emergency Operations Center.
The 18,000-square-foot building will go through $1.8 million of renovations over the next several months to handle the varied functions of the EOC. Those functions are centered around hosting first responders and related agencies from all over the county during emergencies, County Executive Joe Parisi announced at a news conference Thursday, Jan. 23.
The rest of the time, a staff of about 10 people will handle planning, training, meeting federal standards and other combined efforts for agencies all over the county, including 21 emergency medical service and 27 law enforcement, Dane County Emergency Management director Charles Tubbs told the Star.
It is expected to open in January 2021.
Parisi said the county will purchase the building for $1.2 million from a development company, which had bought it from Fitchburg two years ago for about $1 million. The County Board introduced a resolution to purchase it Jan. 23 for later approval.
Despite being on the southwest side of the county, Parisi said, the location is an improvement over the EOC’s current Downtown Madison location for several reasons.
Among those are better accessibility, as it’s right off a newly rebuilt stretch of U.S. 18-151, and lower risk that an power outage shuts down both the EOC and the county’s 911 Communications Center, Parisi added.
“It does have the benefit of not being in downtown, where the bulk of our operations exist,” he said. “It allows us to centralize.”
Tubbs added that all the agencies he communicated with were supportive of the locations and none showed concerns.
“It’s easy to get to,” he said.
Parisi said the existing EOC takes about two hours to set up when a crisis hits and is in a limited space that makes performing all the operations desired of it difficult. When the Fitchburg location opens, he said, the existing one will be used as part of the remodeling of the Dane County Jail.
Tubbs said while the new space hasn’t been designed yet, the facility is well prepared for the multitude of operations it will host, including some things the county currently rents space out for, or isn’t able to do at all.
“This is really our first time getting to spend some time here,” he said.
In addition to a vast array of communications facilities, Tubbs said, the building will have space – and two-story ceilings – for several emergency vehicles, including its 18-month-old, $500,000 Mobile Command Post, which essentially is an RV outfitted with specialized communications technology for commanding emergency incidents or handling crime scenes. It will also accommodate a bariatric ambulance, used for handling patients who are 500 pounds or heavier, and a mass casualty trailer, among other specialized vehicles.
The building will also have ample room to hold more realistic training, including active shooter tabletop drills, medical training and simulated crashes, Tubbs and other county staff said.
Fitchburg Fire Station No. 2 was decommissioned in June 2017, after the city built its Marketplace Drive fire and EMS station, the first of two new stations designed to improve response times and prepare for both the eventual addition of part of the Town of Madison to the northeast and development and growth to east of U.S. Hwy. 14.
Unlike the Lacy Road station, which was kept for office functions, the King James station (as it was sometimes known) was abandoned entirely.
At the time, it had hosted a community center and a polling location, two functions some people had hoped to keep there, but the city found doing so unworkable without the building being staffed and maintained, and in October 2017, it solicited bids for its sale.