BELLEAIR BLUFFS – The crowd was large and ready to celebrate. They had gathered Oct. 12 for a long-awaited grand opening. After years of planning and months of construction, the hard work was now over. The new Fire Station 43 in Belleair Bluffs was ready to open.
Bluffs Mayor Chris Arbutine drew the most applause of the day when he told the group, “I come here with a sigh of relief. We did it!”
Largo Fire Chief Shelby Willis spoke of Belleair Bluffs’ long history of providing fire services. The department began in the 1960s as an all-volunteer force, she said, locating first in a facility called “the barn” next to the old city hall on Florence Drive. In the late 1960s, Willis said, the fire department moved to a converted gas station on Indian Rocks Road, where it would later be joined by the Belleair Bluffs police and public works departments.
The volunteer firefighters, who rushed to the fire station when they heard the loud alarm, were replaced by paid, full-time employees in the 1970s. Emergency Medical Services began at that time with the hiring of Emergency Medical Technicians and paramedics.
The modified gas station would remain the fire station for nearly 50 years, up to the present move. Arbutine pointed out that as time went by, the facility became functionally obsolete, with firefighters working in sub-par conditions.
Planning for a new station began in 2011, Willis said, when Belleair Bluffs, Belleair, Largo and the county entered into a joint agreement to build the station. A piece of property across from Belleair Bluffs City Hall, which the city bought for that purpose, was found to be the perfect location, offering the best response times to the communities served.
A design team was formed, input was gathered from citizens, firefighters and public officials, plans were finalized, and construction began in October 2016. One year later, the state-of-the-art building is complete. Fire personnel are expected to move in by the end of the month.
After hearing from Willis and Arbutine, other dignitaries from the communities served by the station also spoke of the spirit of cooperation that made the project a success. They were Belleair Town Manager J.P. Murphy, Largo Mayor Woody Brown and Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard.
The ribbon was cut, officially opening the new Fire Station 43. The crowd moved inside to view the station and its innovative features. The centerpiece of the kitchen is a large dining table that was handcrafted of wood taken from a live oak tree that needed to be removed from the property when construction began on the fire station.
Willis proclaimed the station “a great example of what teamwork and collaboration can do. It’s functional, it’s energy-efficient, it’s beautiful, and it meets the needs of the community today and in the future.”