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Firehouse addition can take the heat

In the traditional image of a firefighter, Crystal River's bravest soon will be able to leap out of their second-floor beds, slide down a pole and rush off to douse roaring flames anywhere in the city. Work is almost complete on a $115,000 addition to the Crystal River firehouse that will give firefighters living quarters _ complete with fire pole _ at the station for the first time.

All that's missing will be the Dalmatian. Sparky is an occasional guest at the station, but Assistant Fire Chief Jack Dumas keeps his dog at home, about five blocks away.

The all-volunteer Fire Department hopes to have three or four firefighters living at the station initially, Dumas said.

They won't pay rent but will be responsible for maintenance and minor repairs to the trucks and building.

Having firefighters on site also will cut response time by a minute or two, Dumas said.

The department already has a quick response time because several firefighters live within four or five blocks of the firehouse, he said.

"Any improvement we can make is going to help," he said.

The living quarters has four bedrooms with two beds each, a kitchen and meeting area, two bathooms and an office.

The color scheme is _ what else? _ red right down to the bedspreads.

A 16-foot drop greets anyone who opens an ordinary-looking door next to the kitchen: the fire pole. Dumas said he expects firefighters will use it.

"I don't like walking down stairs," he quipped.

The first floor of the addition is 2,000 square feet of additional garage space for fire trucks.

The department hopes one of those trucks will be its first ladder truck or some other vehicle to get firefighters up in the air.

While the city doesn't have any buildings taller than two and a half stories, a ladder or bucket truck would allow the department to fight fires from above, hosing down the roof of a shopping center or the Crystal River Mall, for example, Dumas said. It also would help in rooftop rescues.

"The city is getting to a size where an aerial apparatus is something the department is going to need in the next year or so," he said.

With a price tag of $350,000 to $500,000 for a new one, Dumas knows it won't be an easy acquisition for the city, which is in a tight budget year.

Most of the new addition was paid for by $100,000 in fire and police impact fees from the developer of the Crystal River Mall, the Edward J. DeBartolo Corp.