BY SUSIE CURRIE — The Hyattsville Volunteer Fire Department (HVFD) will mark its 125th anniversary this month with a weekend-long celebration, and hundreds of former members are coming from all over America for it. They will be here not only to remember a shared past at the fire station, located at 6200 Belcrest Road, but to take an important step toward the future: breaking ground for a new, $12 million building that will replace it.
The groundbreaking, which will kick off the fire station’s annual fall open house on October 12, is largely ceremonial. Permits are still being pulled and site plans finalized, said HVFD President Dave Iannone. Construction, funded entirely through bonds issued by the county, is expected to begin next year and finish in 2016.
But for many attendees, it will be the last time they see the 9,000-square-foot station that so many of them once called home. It was built in 1958 and for many years used as a substation. The main fire station, which has now been incorporated into Firehouse Lofts condominiums, was on the 4300 block of Farragut Street. When that one closed in 1969, operations shifted to Belcrest Road. An expansion in 1988 added an engine bay, bringing the total to four (two full, two half), but “we still don’t have room for all our emergency vehicles,” said HVFD President Dave Iannone.
“These bays were built for much smaller trucks,” said HVFD Vice President Thomas Falcone, a firefighter with the department for 21 years. “People can barely squeeze by to get to their lockers.”
They should have plenty of room in the new building. At nearly 25,000 square feet, it will house both the HVFD and the Prince George’s County branch of the American Red Cross, which owns building next door to the current station. That 21,000-square-foot space will become the temporary fire station as the new one is built, and then it will be demolished to make way for the parking lot.
In the new building, the Red Cross will occupy about 4,300 square feet on the ground floor. Plans call for a visitors’ center and space for up to five staff, as well as a separate entrance off Queens Chapel Road.
A state-of-the-art multipurpose room, to be shared with the HVFD and other local public-safety agencies, can serve as a regional command center during natural disasters. At other times, the room will be used for meetings, training and classes, including ones in first aid and babysitter certification that are open to the public.
The HVFD will have the first and second floors, with four full engine bays, a separate locker room, and modern kitchen, dining area and day room. Living space for up to 18 resident volunteers will feature expanded women’s quarters; a study room for the many college students who live there; and a fitness room that will be shared with officers from the Hyattsville City Police Department.
The current building may feel even smaller during the anniversary celebration, which Iannone expects to draw the largest gathering of station alumni ever. On Friday, October 11, the first of the weekend’s events will be an evening cookout on the grounds for current and former members.
“Some of them haven’t been to Hyattsville in 20 years,” said Falcone, a Hyattsville native whose nephew also volunteered at the station before becoming a career firefighter in Washington, D.C. “They’re very excited to see everyone.”
And, although he admits that it will be “emotional” to see the station torn down, he says that everyone he’s talked to is looking forward to the next chapter in the fire department’s history.
“We started this process in the mid-’90s,” he said. “So we’ve been waiting for a long time for this.”