DUETTE -- Volunteer firefighters of Duette have performed noble life-saving work since 1982, even though their workspace has been ever so humble.
In their earliest years, their headquarters was a barn borrowed from a neighbor, and later a rabbit hutch on a former chief’s property.
More recently, firefighters have worked out of an open-air pole barn, where they parked several of their vehicles under nothing more than the stars and the moon.
But that all ends May 19, when the department moves into a modern fire house at 35800 S.R. 62.
The new building is adjacent to a new 75-acre park complete with a 19-acre lake, soccer and softball fields, and picnic pavilion. It’s all built on reclaimed phosphate land and paid for by mining company Mosaic.
Mosaic donated $2.8 million to construct the 8,785-square-foot station and the park.
“I’m really proud of how far we have come and how generous Mosaic has been in assisting us,” said volunteer association president John O’Connor.
O’Connor’s association with the fire department goes back to 1984 when he moved to Duette.
The fire department started as a community service project of the Mighty 4-H’ers of Duette who petitioned the Division of Forestry for a brush truck for Duette. The Duette fire badge still contains a cloverleaf to commemorate the club’s importance in the department’s founding.
“That was our first piece of apparatus. It was kept in John Keen’s barn on Keentown Road behind the Duette School,” O’Connor said.
Later, 4-H Club members worked with Fire Chief Charlie Robinson to raise the roof in Robinson’s rabbit hutch to shelter fire equipment.
“We have been living on gifted fire trucks from many of the fire stations in Manatee County,” O’Connor said.
“Charlie would have just loved to have been here,” O’Connor said of the late fire chief.
In recent years, Fire Chief Jim Leonard has led many of the efforts to modernize the department.
Leonard started planning in 1997 for a permanent home for the Duette department, according to Herald archives.
“Once you get involved in helping people, it sucks you in,” Leonard told the Herald in 2004. He wasn’t available for comment Wednesday.
In addition to footing the bill for the construction of the firehouse and park, Mosaic will also pay to maintain the park for the next three years, Duette fire commissioner Felicia Tappan said Wednesday.
“It’s all first-class,” Tappan said of the new facilities.
The new firehouse becomes a center for the community to rally after a hurricane or other natural disaster that it previously lacked, Tappan said.
“We have a little hub now where the community can meet,” said fire commissioner Betty Stewart.
Fawley Bryant Architects Inc. designed the facility.
Dedication of the firehouse and park is set for 4 p.m. May 19.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.