Revelers cheer fire station | ParkRecord.com

Revelers cheer fire station

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

Jim Berry saunters through the Park Avenue fire station, catching glimpses of the building where he once worked and competing for space with an unexpectedly large crowd at the station.

It is Independence Day and the station, as is tradition, is bustling as the holiday crowds in Park City stroll by as they walk between Main Street and City Park, both jammed with revelers.

Berry, who is 77 years old, is a former Park City fire chief and spent parts of five decades, from 1948 until 1985, fighting fires locally and in the Salt Lake Valley.

He is at the Park Avenue fire station, with dozens of others, both firefighters and regular Parkites, to trade stories about the building as the Park City Fire District prepares to move out.

"It’s just another part of the history of Park City that’s gone," Berry says, as the people mill about, learning about the fire trucks and chatting with firefighters.

The Wednesday gathering, though, is expected to be the last 4th of July celebration at the station. The fire district plans to shutter the station, 1353 Park Ave., in favor of one that is under construction at the edge of Park Meadows.

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When that one opens, expected in May or June 2008, the Park Avenue operations will move and the older station will close. City Hall wants to build an affordable-housing project on the Park Avenue land.

The firefighters cook for the crowd, sell T-shirts and chat with the Parkites about the job.

Wearing a black fire district T-shirt, Kelly Gee, the fire chief, mixes with the old-timers, who remember fighting fires in the era before Park City became a glitzy ski resort.

Gee started with the volunteer force in 1978, became a full-time captain in 1983 and, two years later, was named chief.

"I spent 29 years in this fire station, working out of this fire station," Gee says, describing his tenure as "exciting, enlightening, difficult, sad" and calling the station an "institution."

It is unclear when the station, which covers 7,200 square feet, was built and some who remember its early days offer different times for its construction. Gee says it was probably put up in the 1950s, perhaps in the second half of the decade, when the silver-mining industry continued to dominate Park City but the skiing era neared. It was built as a maintenance shop for trolleys, Gee says.

Now, five firefighters are stationed there. They are also paramedics or emergency-medical technicians and the five share their space with two engines and two ambulances. They cover a sprawling swath of Park City, essentially everywhere in the city limits except upper Deer Valley.

The new station, which is under construction off Holiday Ranch Loop Road, provides better road access and is closer to neighborhoods like Park Meadows, the fire district says.

The new station will be much different than the one Berry, the former chief, helmed on Park Avenue. Berry, who led the local fire district from 1983 until 1985, remembers fires being reported through a coded system using the telephone operator. The firefighters heard a whistle, called the operator and provided a code to find out where a fire was burning, he recalls.

It could take 11 minutes to respond when the force was made of volunteers. The time was slashed to 30 seconds once the full-time firefighters were hired, he says.

"We had the equipment here and we were able to keep it maintained around the clock," Berry says.

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