South Portland Fire Capt. Jeffrey Rogers stands by the main entrance to the new Cash Corner Fire Station,. Workers are expected to finish the $7.5 million station next month, with a scheduled opening date of May 12. Sean Murphy / The Forecaster

The South Portland Fire Department’s new $7.5 million station at Cash Corner, expected to be ready for a May 12 opening, contains many upgrades and improvements over its 1970s-era predecessor, and arguably one of its most innovative features is a stairwell.

But not just any stairwell. Designers built several extras into one of the new station’s stairwells to provide ample opportunities for training the department’s firefighters.

“We can do a lot in here,” said Fire Capt. Jeffrey Rogers as he showed off some of the new features. There are working pipes that allow firefighters to train in tapping into a building’s water systems.

South Portland Fire Capt. Jeffrey Rogers shows off training features built into one of the new Cash Corner fire station’s stairwells. The rings can support a person’s weight, and can be used with ropes by firefighters doing rappel training. Sean Murphy / The Forecaster

Halfway up the stairs, there is a small landing with a panel that opens onto the station’s main bay. It is the same height off the landing as a window might be in a typical house. Rogers said trainees can set up ladders and use the panel to simulate climbing into a second-story window.

At the top, a metal handrail is removable, to be used along with red metal beams at the top of the stairwell. The beams have brass rings built into them that can take a person’s weight, for drilling on rappelling techniques and similar ropework.

“We can lift people up and down in here if we need to,” Rogers said.

Robb Couture, the department’s public information officer, said the city opted to replace the original building on the same site in 2018, after routine maintenance revealed mold throughout the structure.

“What they came up with was, ‘We could put a giant Band-Aid on it, and it’ll still be a bad building, or we can rebuild it,'” he said.

The old station was razed in 2020.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, Couture said construction is expected to be finished next month, right on time and ready for the May 12 opening.

“I don’t think they’ve had any hiccups at all,” he said.

Of course, there’s more to the new building than the stairwell. The new station offers a decontamination room, where firefighters can go to clean themselves and their equipment after returning from a particularly hazardous call. There also is large room that will be available to the general public for group events as well.

The 17,000-square-foot building will offer enough space for a minimum of three full-time firefighters on duty at all times, but there will be 10 bedrooms available. Rogers said that’s to accommodate call firefighters who might be stationed there, and any new full-time firefighters to be assigned in the future.

Vehicle bays house the station’s ladder truck, but the department will store another ladder truck at the station as well, along with two engines, an ambulance and other equipment now stored elsewhere in the city. Again, Rogers said, the equipment is on call, and may get permanently assigned to the station if the department needs it in the future.

Right now, Rogers, who will take charge of the station once it’s finished, technically runs the station’s fire equipment out of the department’s Western Avenue station. He said he is looking forward to getting back to Cash Corner, where he belongs.

“The room I sleep in at the West End is an office,” he said.

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