It’s not every day you see firefighters taking sledgehammers to their own station, but it happened Tuesday evening in Mobile.

Firefighters, interested neighbors and city officials including Councilwoman Gina Gregory and Mayor Sandy Stimpson gathered at Mobile’s Fire Station No. 18, a small station at the intersection of Museum Drive and McGregor Avenue in Spring Hill. The station was empty, awaiting demolition and site preparation work for the new one that will replace it.

Lawrence Specker | LSpecker@AL.com

Mobile city council member Gina Gregory laughs at a remark from Mayor Sandy Stimpson, center, as officials gather for the start of demolition on Fire Station No. 18 on Aug. 14, 2019. At left is the city’s executive director of public safety, James Barber. At right are Mobile Fire Rescue Department Chief Mark Sealy and Village of Spring Hill board president Linda St. John. (Lawrence Specker | LSpecker@AL.com)

Gregory, who led a push to bring the city, the Mobile Fire Rescue Department and the Village of Spring Hill community together on a design that met everyone’s needs, said the new station planned for the site will make “an extraordinary difference” for the firefighters stationed there. She praised Stimpson for supporting the process.

Built in the ’60s, Station 18 had a lot of service behind it but not much love. It was one of a generation of stations whose inadequate features include flat roofs that haven’t served well in Mobile’s wet climate. Over the decades, intruding moisture as created problems. Mobile Fire Rescue Capt. J.D. Nicholas, who worked out of the station for 14 years, said responders stationed there got used to the smell of mildew following them everywhere they went.

Small wonder firefighters lined up to begin the demolition work that heavy equipment will finish. A team of dignitaries including Stimpson, Gregory, MFRD Chief Mark Sealy, public safety director James Barber and Village of Spring Hill board president Linda St. John took the first ceremonial swings. But the MFRD personnel who followed hit harder, shattering bricks and knocking chunks off a wall.

Architect Sandy McArthur of Watermark Design Group said the station is a prototype for a generation of stations to come. The city council has long militated for a standard design, rather than having each new station designed from scratch. That isn’t always practical: For example, the most recently dedicated new station, in the Crichton community, was larger than most and required a unique design.

But McArthur said the prototype concept of this station uses a basic structural design that will become a standard. Stations built to this plan will function the same on the inside but can still have exterior details tailored to suit their neighborhoods.

Gregory said the contract for construction of the new station hasn’t yet been finalized, but the budget for the project will be more than $1.5 million. In the meantime, crews based at Station 18 will work out of a temporary location next door, so that service to the area is not interrupted.

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