MANATEE -- West Manatee Fire Rescue held a groundbreaking ceremony late Thursday morning to celebrate construction of a new 9,000-square-foot building.
Fire officials, including several fire district commissioners, stood with golden shovels at Fire Station No. 4, 407 67th St. W., Bradenton. Manatee County Commissioner John Chappie also attended.
The agency's oldest station was demolished last month.
"It's a big day for us, for the department, because we're moving ahead with the new building," said West Manatee Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Rich Jasinski. "The old building's completely done at this point, and now we look forward to seeing some progress on moving ahead, getting our new station built."
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Jasinski, with the agency 25 years, described the project as a huge step forward.
"Everything is on schedule and today was just a ceremonial thing that most agencies do," he said.
Chief Tom Sousa told the Herald in November the $2.8 million project has been in the works almost two years.
"We finally are getting to where we're actually going to start constructing the building," he said in November. "It'll be a great improvement for the community. It's going to be a Category 4 structure, which will allow it to be hurricane proof for up to 165-mph winds."
Firefighters at the old station had to move temporarily into an administration building at 6417 Third Ave. W., Bradenton. Rooms were designated for the crew comprised daily of up to four firefighters and two emergency medical services paramedics.
Officials estimate construction will take up to nine months. Once completed, the station will be large enough to house all of West Manatee Fire Rescue's fleet in the case of a hurricane. It will also be a more energy-efficient building with more windows.
"This is a big deal. This is something we had to do," said Randy Cooper, fire district commissioner. "I think the building outlived its use for us and I don't think we had a choice but to take this extreme step. ... This is something we put a lot of thought into and we think it's going to benefit the district and the community."
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter@AmarisCastillo.