City Breaks Ground On First Fire Station In 35 Years

READING, Pa. - Despite facing a shaky financial future, Reading's mayor said the city must continue to move forward.

So, today it did, breaking ground on Reading's first new fire station in more than three decades.

A 17-year-old idea got its first real roots along Lancaster Avenue. Crews will begin construction of the brand new Southwest Fire Station.

When it opens next year, it will combine the aging Liberty and Oakbrook stations.

"I think the important thing is too, we're practicing what we preach," said Chief Bill Rehr. "This will be the first fully sprinklered fire station in the city of Reading."

Unlike the stations it's replacing, the city will own the Southwest Station at a cost of $3 million. The money is from a capital bond issue. The city's also applied for federal stimulus dollars to cover the cost.

"There's a lot of comments about building a station with the current economic situation in the city, but this is not the money that could be used to pay salaries or pay for employees," said Rehr. "This is strictly for the maintenance of infrastructure."

They used the traditional shovels for the groundbreaking, but it was hard to ignore the proverbial ax. With city budget cuts looming, some firefighters wondered if they'd have the opportunity to work in this new station.

"If you're getting laid off, a new station doesn't mean much of anything to you," said Rehr.

The groundbreaking put the city's administration side by side with firefighters, a departure from recent stances across the bargaining table.

"No solid deal in place," said Keith Eshelman, president for the union firefighters. "There's a lot to overcome that the city's asking and we're going to work with them."

Still, Mayor McMahon said layoffs are inevitable, making this station a bittersweet symbol of the Reading Fire Department's future.

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