By Joe Beck
The second floor of the North Warren Volunteer Fire Department Station No. 10 on Saturday night was filled with people marking a milestone in the building's short but drama-filled history.
More than 100 firefighters, business executives and government officials gathered to celebrate the paying off of a construction loan and the transfer of station ownership from a holding company to Warren County.
Speakers recalled the building's rise and fall and rise again. First conceived in the late 1990s, it opened in late 2002 only to have the roof collapse four months later under the weight of a heavy snowfall.
County Administrator Douglas P. Stanley said he was visiting relatives in Virginia Beach when he received a phone call from Fire Chief Richard E. Mabie describing the collapse.
"My first question was, 'Is anyone hurt?'" Stanley said. "After all, buildings can be replaced, lives can't."
The relief that came upon learning no lives or equipment were lost was followed by a rebuilding effort. The reborn station that rose from the debris in early 2004 came with a much improved second floor that featured a vaulted ceiling, enlarged windows, kitchen and enough space to make it what Stanley called "one of the nicest banquet spaces in Warren County."
"It is not often that something this catastrophic can occur, and you end up in a better situation than that which you started," Stanley said. "But that is what happened at Company No. 10."
Mabie said the rebuilt station proved its worth shortly after reopening when a mobile home blew up. The propane gas explosion on U.S. 522 near the Interstate 66 exits left two people dead, destroyed three buildings and threw the gas tank 500 feet from the dwelling.
"That incident still stands as one of the most catastrophic in the county," Mabie told the audience.
Before the construction of the fire station, firefighters would have had to travel through Front Royal from the station on Commerce Avenue to the explosion site, Mabie said.
The building of Company No. 10's station off of U.S. 522 on Rockland Court allows firefighters to provide automatic aid to departments as far away as Strasburg, Middletown and Stephens City, Mabie said.
"That just proves again this is a great location," he said.
The station's coverage area includes 13 miles of I-66, eight miles of U.S. 522 and a small part of Interstate 81. The opening of the station cut firefighter response times by 10 to 12 minutes within the service area, Mabie said.
Several speakers praised what they called a unique financing partnership in building the station. A holding company formed from representatives of county government, the business community and Company No. 10 volunteer firefighters to raise money. Stanley estimated the total cost of the project at $2 million, about $420,000 of which came from the county.
Michael R. South, president of the North Warren Volunteer Fire Company Title Holding Company, said the organization allowed the station to expand fund raising beyond traditional sources
"For many fire companies, all they think about is bingo as a financial support tool," South said.
Stanley called the station "a great example" of people coming together to meet an urgent community need.
"When this process started, I lived in the Linden area, and it did not impact me on a personal level," Stanley said. My family has since moved to the Rockland area, and I can tell you that I am proud to have this station protect me and my family."
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org