LOCAL

More than a nice view: Why Destin's new fire station is located in a former wedding venue

Tina Harbuck
The Destin Log

What used to be a place where couples would exchange wedding vows is now Destin's newest firehouse on Choctawhatchee Bay. 

The Destin Fire Control District purchased the Destin Bay House at 127 Calhoun Ave.for $2.3 million and started running calls from the area as early as July 2021.

But the change over the past several months, from a wedding venue to a full-working firehouse on the west end of Destin overlooking the bay, is almost complete.

All that's left to do is install doors on the building that houses the fire engine and install a ventilation system. 

Destin Fire Chief Kevin Sasser talks about the department's newest station on Calhoun Avenue. The bayfront location allows firefighters to respond immediately to calls on the west end of Destin and on boats or personal watercraft to emergencies on Crab Island, Destin's East Pass, the Gulf of Mexico and the Mid-Bay Bridge.

"We've been wanting to be on the water for years, and we finally had the opportunity to do it, and we took advantage of it," Fire Chief Kevin Sasser said.

The property has 90 feet on the waterfront and is located between Clement Taylor Park and Capt. Leonard Destin Park on the bay. On the property is an office space up front, a bay to house the new firetruck No. 19, the living quarters for the firefighters and a dock for the jet skis and a fire boat. 

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"We have a significant number of calls that occur on the water," Sasser said, noting that Destin is a water community with many people owning boats and recreating on the water.

"It was important that we have a quicker response to the water-born calls," Sasser said. 

And the location of the new substation is "where we need to be," Sasser said. 

Firefighter Brian Gatewood and Captain Felix Romero work on a rescue boat at the Destin Fire Department's newest station on Calhoun Avenue.

From the location, they can turn left and go into the Gulf of Mexico or Destin Harbor. In front of the property is Crab Island, the water playground where thousands gather, and then to the right is the bay and the Mid-Bay Bridge area. 

"It's the perfect location," Sasser said. 

In the past, it took Destin Fire about 15 to 20 minutes to respond to emergencies on the water. Firefighters would have to leave the main station on Airport Road and go to their vessel on Destin Harbor at Fishing Fleet Marina. 

Now the vessel is located right on the bay behind the substation. 

"Crab Island is straight ahead where a lot of the calls are generated," Sasser said. 

Calls on land

Not only is the location good for calls on the water, but for the people on land. 

"Our calls over here were just ridiculous. And with the traffic in the summer time, it's hard for us. And every second counts when saving a life," Fire Commissioner Mike Buckingham said. 

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A personal watercraft with an emergency backboard sits on a lift at the Destin Fire Department's newest station on Calhoun Avenue.

"These guys can throw every siren and light they have on and people still don't get out of the way," Buckingham said. 

So, when the property opened up, Buckingham said, "it was the perfect location." 

"We built what we needed to house the truck and the guys in the best location we could find," Buckingham said. 

They were able to turn the bay house into living quarters for the firefighters at a low cost. 

"It was a pretty open space. We just added some walls. It was easy and very inexpensive to retro this building from the wedding house to now sleep six guys," Buckingham said. 

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As for the truck bay for the new low-profile Fire Engine 19, they built a 40-by-60 building. Included in the building is a shower room and locker room, along with a washer and drying system. 

"They will be able to get all their decon done out here," Sasser said, keeping the carcinogens out of their living quarters. 

The new engine, which cost about $450,000, is smaller and able to get in and out of the driveways along Calhoun Avenue and other residences on the west end of town that have big oak trees and hanging branches. 

"With the older truck, we had to stop on the road … now we can drive down," Sasser said. 

Destin Fire Commission board member Mike Buckingham shows off the cleaning and drying area where firefighters can wash off the dangerous chemicals they're exposed to during fires.

"I will say we have had a lot of residents on this side of town say thank you, thank you, thank you," Buckingham said. 

Destin is 7 miles long and about 3 miles wide at its widest point. 

"We're here to protect you, land or water, we're going to protect you," Buckingham said. 

Plans for the future 

With the new substation, Destin Fire Control District has a new boat coming. The current boat is a 26-footer; however, a 45-footer is on the way. 

Sasser said the new boat should be ready to go by the end of 2023. 

The new boat will have a cabin where they will be able to work on a person. 

"All the things medically we need to do to them, we should be able to do on that boat," Sasser said. 

"If somebody is having a heart attack, we can put leads on them. Our job is to protect Destin and the water ways in and around Destin. And the sooner you can get them that advanced care, the better off they will be," Sasser said. 

Along with the new boat, Destin Fire is looking to make some improvements to the existing docks. 

They are hoping to make the Calhoun station an "Emergency Response Marine Center" not just a fire department, Buckingham said. 

Buckingham has already reached out to the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office as well as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission about putting a boat at Calhoun station.

"They are so excited, but nothing is in stone. But the fire commissioners are all on board," Buckingham said.

In addition to a new boat, Destin Fire has a new ladder truck on the way for Station 9 on Airport Road.

Sasser said the new 100-foot plus ladder truck should be completed in December. 

"In Destin, how can you not have a ladder truck when we have over 50 high rises and 50 mid-rises … got to have a ladder truck," he said. 

The cost of the new truck is $1.4 million.