OAKDALE — Only a few members of the Oakdale Volunteer Fire Department volunteer to back trucks into the fire station.
It takes a steady hand, a good set of eyes and the ability to steer equipment so they are lined up and spaced with enough precision to fit each rig inside the outdated stucco building on the village’s main street.
“The grass rigs — when we back them in — the one comes clear back to the south wall, and the other one, you have to touch bumpers to get everything in,” said Matt Wilkinson, who serves as fire chief in Oakdale.
The inadequate size of the existing fire station is only one of the reasons the Oakdale fire department has set out to raise funds for a new fire station. The department recently received a $25,000 donation from TC Energy, but its overall goal is to raise about $300,000.
The need for a new facility is great, said Wilkinson, who keeps the department’s equipment truck at his home because of space limitations.
Assistant fire chief Aaron Kinnan said space is so tight in the existing facility that it’s difficult for department members to squeeze between the trucks and the walls when they are suited up in their full bunker gear for an incident.
“A lot of it is adrenaline that makes you squeeze into it,” he said.
Wilkinson and Kinnan said the existing building is well over a century old. It was converted from a clothing store and a dried-goods store when the front windows were removed and doors were installed.
“It’s an old building. The stucco is cracking and falling in,” Kinnan said.
“If you look at the west wall, the foundation is settling,” Wilkinson added.
The water line to fill the tanker tender — which is used to fight rural fires — also is inadequate, Wilkinson said.
“A 3,000-gallon tank at an inch and a half of water line — it will take you 20-30 minutes to fill it,” he said. “We go out to the fire plug by the station.”
Wilkinson and Kinnan stressed time among the factors of why it is important for Oakdale to have an adequately equipped fire department. Over time, the nature of fires has changed because of the different materials people keep in their homes, Wilkinson said.
“Back in 1980, you had 20 minutes to get out of a house fire,” Wilkinson said. “Now, you have six.”
Departments from other nearby communities would take at least 20 minutes to get to Oakdale because members of those squads would need time to get to their fire halls and to suit up for the incident before leaving, he said.
“That house is going to be fully involved by the time anyone gets there,” Wilkinson said.
Kinnan added that the fire department covers more than fires. Over the past few years, the Oakdale department has tended to several accident scenes, especially on nearby Highway 275, and it was instrumental to community safety during the flood last March.
Kinnan said the department is looking at building the new fire station on the land where the hardware store once sat in Oakdale. The hardware store was owned by his grandparents, and it is now owned by Kinnan’s father, Gene, whom Kinnan said would give the department the land when it is ready to build.
That location, Wilkinson added, has access to the village’s main 6-inch water line, as well as space to create a facility where trucks can be driven through.
Kinnan and Wilkinson said they would like to see a new facility with adequate space to store rigs and equipment, a complete, unisex shower room and a tool room, a meeting area and a storm shelter for the community.
“Right now we rely on somebody to sit in there (the old building) when a tornado is coming to blow the sirens,” Kinnan said. “That’s going to be the first thing we put in there.”
Some of the funding for the facility might come from the rural fire board, but the department doesn’t want to deplete all of the board’s funds, Kinnan said.
Kinnan added that grants often are available for equipment purchases, but fundraising for a project as big as a new fire station would be a greater challenge, especially considering the amount of money needed compared with the number of residents served by the Oakdale Fire Department.
He and Wilkinson said they hope people in the area will recognize its importance and donate generously.
“A bigger building means a bigger tanker truck to bring more water to their house fire. ... We cannot grow until we get a building,” Wilkinson said.