Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

When Sheets GMC closed in December 2012, it was unclear what would become of the building and lot where many cars, trucks and SUVs were sold and serviced.

This month, the former dealership found new life as the Green Bank station for Bartow-Frank-Durbin Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad.

BFD fire chief Kenneth “Buster” Varner explained that the department was in need of a new facility in Green Bank, and Sheets GMC was the right size and right location.

“The long and the short of it is, we’ve outgrown the building that we’re in,” Varner said. “We saw the opportunity of the Sheets Garage. We went and looked at it, and voted to purchase it. We’re in the process of transitioning from where we are now down to that.”

The fire department currently has a sub-station in Green Bank near the Green Bank Observatory, on the opposite side of the road. BFD started the sub-station after the observatory, then known as the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, discontinued its own fire services.

The facility has served the department well, but Varner said BFD wants to offer more programs – including dinners and fund raisers – in Green Bank like it does at its facility in Durbin. To do that, they need more space.

“We would like to do some things other than just house the apparatus and that’s all we could do up here,” Varner said. “[At Sheets] you’ve got offices. You’ve got that big room in there. We may possibly start alternating meetings down there, have some fundraisers. We’ve got more parking area. It’s just a lot better facility all around.”

BFD is in the process of moving a fire truck and ambulance to the new location, as well as other office essentials. The department also has to construct a two-hour fire wall between the garage bays and the rest of the building to meet fire marshal requirements.

Once the facility is up-and-running, Varner said the department plans to have an open house for the community.

“We’re planning on having an auto extraction class down here, and we want to have an open house at that time, and invite the public down, see the building, get a hotdog and talk to the members,” he said. “It’s the community’s building. It’s not ours. I’m just in control of it, and I’m doing the best I possibly can in taking care of the community’s money.”

Varner said he tries to pinch every penny and ensure that BFD is using community donations to better serve the area. It costs a lot of money to operate a fire department and rescue squad and Varner said there is never a shortage of expenses.

“We’re always needing money,” he said. “We never have enough money to operate like we need to. [To equip a member], you’re roughly looking at close to four thousand dollars a person, and that needs to be replaced every eight to ten years. We’ve got twenty-five members.

“Trucks need to be replaced every twenty years,” he continued. “We can’t do it. We don’t have the money. I’ve bought used trucks to get our ISO rating up for the tankers and pumpers because we can’t afford to buy new trucks.”

Varner said he hopes the new, larger facility will give BFD a chance to become a larger part of the community in Green Bank and that the residents will see the fire department and rescue squad as being there for them.

The open house will be announced at a later date.

Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at sastewart@pocahontastimes.com