SOUTH SIOUX CITY | As he entered the new South Sioux City Fire Department garage Friday morning, EMS Capt. Matt Rector tapped a button to raise one of the bay doors to let in more light.
"This is the coup-de-grace of the station," he said, pointing out the various vehicles in the department's fleet parked in the wide-open area -- a new ladder truck, the new utility task vehicle, the ambulance, and more.
The department's previous headquarters, located directly behind the new building across First Street, could barely house all of it, he said.
Now, there's room to spare.
"It’s quadrupled our space for sure," he said. "You think about our old station compared to our garage area now and what’s there, and you kind of wonder how we even got the fire apparatus in there."
The South Sioux City Fire Department moved into the brand-new 12,225-square-foot station last week. The $2.6 million project, paid through a U.S. Department of Agriculture loan, provides significantly more space and a comfortable quarters more fit for a department moving from fully volunteer toward 24/7 staffing.
Over the past decade, with call volume on the rise, the department has grown from all-volunteer to one authorized for four full-time positions and, as of last fall, a full-time chief. The department has continued modernizing its fleet and equipment this year and is now adding the brand-new station.
Rector said the progress is changing the tone.
"It's definitely brought a little bit more -- I'd have to say a little bit more camaraderie. A little bit more, 'Alright, we're moving on,'" he said.
Rector said the city has fielded about 300 more calls than last year at this time -- a nearly 50 percent increase. That volume could continue to grow as the city's population ages, the city continues new residential development such as Ho-Chunk Inc.'s 1,000-home Flatwater Crossing project and industry expands.
In an interview with the Journal last week, Chief Clint Merithew said the department will need to continue to grow with full-time employees to continue to handle its increasing call volume.
"We've got to be proactive not reactive," he said. "South Sioux’s not a small community."
More help could be on the way, as the department prepares to get back up to full staffing and as the city considers adding five more full-timers through a grant it received Sept. 1 from the Federal Emergency Management Association.
The South Sioux City Council has been determining whether the city will have the funding to continue the positions once the $626,972 grant runs out in four years. The city tabled a decision on the grant during a special meeting last week. The item is not on Monday's agenda.
In addition to the new garage, which provides ample space for storage and trainings, a walk through the two-story building portion of the station reveals homey kitchen, bedroom and living areas, a workout room, and several offices.
"We have a male and female shower and bathroom," Rector said. "We have four sleeping rooms -- each has two beds in it. Volunteers as well can come up and stay if they need to and sleep."
The sleeping quarters and living area, furnished with recliners bearing the department's logo, is something the department didn't have at all in its previous home.
"It's incomparable," Rector said.
Outside, the station has an electronic message board it can use for community announcements, as well as solar-powered traffic signals it can use to stop traffic on Dakota Avenue when trucks need to leave.
Crews outside were putting finishing touches on a few portions of the building Friday and polishing the signage. Rector said the interior should be all done by the beginning of next week, although the department still has a few items to move over from its old home.
The department will hold a grand opening 11 a.m. Monday to give the public a chance to see the new station. The event will include a ceremony followed by refreshments and tours.