AUGUSTA — The city’s new fire station took center stage Thursday evening when the mayor, city councilors and others arrived for a ribbon-cutting event at the station, which is designed to help get firefighters to businesses and homes north of the city much faster.

The bays at North Station No. 3 on Leighton Road were open all day Thursday, with an engine and the new $1 million ladder truck — formally known as T-1 because it’s a tower — parked just out front, with a large American flag flying from the end of the black ladder.

The building should be fully operational June 1, Augusta Fire Chief Roger Audette said, and open houses are planned for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Sunday in June.

“Of course anybody can stop in,” Audette said, “but Sundays will be more family-oriented for the kids.”

The $4.3 million new fire station is the first one to open in the city in more than 50 years. “The No. 1 goal is to meet the need of the northern part of the city,” Audette told attendees at the ribbon-cutting, with the quicker response giving the department more time to save lives and property.

Audette said Thursday that the city had not built a fire station since 1965, when it handled 700 fire calls. Last year, the department handled 6,500 calls, which includes emergency medical service, ambulance transport, hazard response, river rescues and technical rescues.

Representatives from many of the large businesses and organizations — including MaineGeneral Medical Center, NRF, the University of Maine at Augusta, J.S. McCarthy Printers and others stopped by on Thursday.

Audette credited Ralph St. Pierre, assistant city manager, for helping to find the financing route for the building as well as the new ladder truck, and he thanked current and past mayors and city councilors for their work toward the goal.

Audette also introduced Ellen Angel, principal architect at Ames Associates, which designed the building; and David Nazaroff, president of The Penobscot Company Inc., of Rockport, the general contractor.

Mayor David Rollins said he was new to the City Council 12 years ago when a study was done to determine future needs. He recounted the planning stage, the site selection various other stages needed to get to the ribbon-cutting.

“We’re safer now in this area of the city,” he said.

He also acknowledged the uniformed firefighter-paramedics lined up behind the seating area. “A couple of you dug me out of a car one night, and I salute you,” he said.

Rollins was a city councilor in 2007 when he was injured in a three-vehicle crash in May 2007 in Manchester.

Audette also recognized seven retirees from the department, including former Fire Chief Peter Crosby, who retired in 1983.

Randy Lewis, senior ladder operator, who has been with the Augusta Fire Department for 33 years, wielded the golden shears to cut the ribbon.

“I declare the station open for business.”

The ribbon-cutting followed a blessing of the station and the new tower truck by the Rev. Frank Morin, of St. Michael Parish.

While the new single-story station lacks a fire pole for firefighters to descend quickly from a top floor, almost every feature of the building can be run via information technology components.

The large building has a secure living and office area for firefighter-paramedics on one side of the building.

It includes a fitness area to help the Fire Department’s personnel stay in shape to lift what Audette said was an average of 1,200 pounds of human weight per shift. Those working out can be viewed through a large window from the living room and kitchen area — another safety feature.

The building has four bunk rooms as well, with four lockers in each — one for each of the various shift members.

Like Central Station at Hartford Square and Station No. 2, the Darrell Parker Wells Station on Bangor Street, it will be staffed around the clock.

The city has 50 firefighter-paramedics and most work 24-hour shifts at 7 a.m., and occasionally 48 hours in a row.

Firefighter-paramedic Miranda Taylor said she was scheduled to work an upcoming 36-hour shift.

A study by the Matrix Consulting Group in 2008 recommended the department build a new station in the area of Civic Center Drive near Interstate 95. The area is home to the Marketplace at Augusta, a hospital and an under-construction National Guard headquarters, along with numerous businesses, organizations and public agencies.

Audette said the new station could mean lower insurance premiums for some nearby homes and businesses, and that a representative from the ISO — the Insurance Services Office — provides underwriting information for casualty and property insurance companies, is coming to do a re-evaluation.

Augusta voters approved $3.6 million in bonds for the new station in a November 2014 referendum, but in early 2015, city officials learned the clay soil under the station might not be able to support the weight of the station and the water-filled trucks it would house. The Augusta City Council approved spending an additional $500,000 to install steel pilings 60 feet down through the soil into bedrock to support the weight.

Now that the North Augusta station construction is completed, the Fire Department will turn its attention to Hartford station, which is set for a $6 million renovation.

Audette said he anticipated a package would be submitted to the city for the Planning Board to consider, hopefully on June 20.

City Manager William Bridgeo noted that Audette served as the city’s representative on the station construction and will be doing the same thing for the Hartford station renovation and expansion, even as he continues in the chief’s role.

In the kitchen, Jim Baldwin, a firefighter/paramedic who usually serves as cook for his fellow C-shift members, admired the stainless fixtures and flattop grill on one of the tours.

Representatives from area businesses visited the newest station earlier in the day.

Four members of the Downes family, owners of KDT Towing, also on Leighton Road, stopped by to admire the new building and chat with the firefighter-paramedics, many of whom they meet on the road at various accident sites.

“It’s beautiful,” Stacey Downes said.

“It’s been a long time coming for this area,” Terry Downes said, adding, “We’re certainly glad to have it right down the road.”

“It’s a nice station,” said Mike Nolette, who works on the customer service team of J.S. McCarthy Printers in the nearby business park. “They put a lot of thought into it.” Nolette is also a deputy chief of the Readfield Fire Deparment.

State Fire Marshal Joseph E. Thomas praised the new building as well.

“It’s very nice, very modern, and it’s sprinkled. That sends out a good message, and it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “Our people are as important as the public.”

He also cited another safety feature: the industrial washers that will be used to clean gear when firefighters return from fire scenes. Thomas said that is particularly important.

A study of 30,000 firefighters by the Centers for Disease Control showed that firefighters contract cancer at a rate higher than the general population, a finding that was at least partially attributed to occupational exposure.

Another approach to protecting firefighter health is under consideration at the Legislature. L.D. 182 is “An Act To Protect Firefighters by Establishing a Prohibition on the Sale and Distribution of New Upholstered Furniture Containing Certain Flame-retardant Chemicals.”

Betty Adams — 621-5631

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Twitter: @betadams