With much fanfare, the long-awaited Emile C. Berry Fire Station and Multipurpose Center opened its doors in Estate Dorothea, providing residents of St. Thomas’ north side with quick and reliable emergency services that haven’t been available in the immediate area for years.
The old Echo Company station has been shut down many times in the past two decades, for problems ranging from hurricane damage to personnel shortages, and there have been several attempts – either by the station’s fire fighters or the government – to revitalize and reopen it.
Most recently, it was discovered that the station needed a complete overhaul, and since 2009, a whole new facility has been in the works. The project was temporarily halted in 2012 while a new contractor moved in, and for the past few weeks, residents have seen the final touches being put on, from the fresh paint on the walls to the construction of a new sign out front.
"Like any project of this magnitude, we faced many challenges, but perseverance paid off in the end," V.I. Fire Services Director Steve Brow told residents Monday at the station’s official re-opening ceremony, which was held in the station’s courtyard.
Brow said the newly reconstructed facility spans 5,402 square feet, and has a lobby, dorms, laundry, bay room for two fire trucks and one ambulance, along with living quarters for 10 emergency responders. A 5,200-gallon cistern is also in place to fill up the fire trucks, while the station can double as a shelter in case of an emergency.
Emergency Medical Services and Rescue are also expected to have a presence at the center in the near future.
Many speakers gave credit to a host of agencies that they said were responsible for finally making the new station a reality, and said that getting the doors open Monday was the result a full "community effort" that took everyone from Public Works to the Department of Property and Procurement. Assistant Fire Services Director Darryl George was also credited for overseeing the day-to-day operations and making sure that the project moved ahead as quickly as possible.
The greatest honor of the day, however, was given to the station’s namesake, Emile C. Berry, who served with distinction during his 20 years in the V.I. Fire Service.
"This day has special meaning to me, because this is the first station that I worked at as a new corporal," St. Thomas Fire Chief Andre Smith said during the ceremony. "It holds the memory of all the men I worked alongside… those men that were great story tellers, teachers and cooks… and it is with heartfelt appreciation that I witness today, this fire station being named after one of those great men."
Berry, along with several members of his family, was in attendance Monday and spoke with great emotion to the crowd that came out for the ceremony.
"We never had a station like this in my time," he said, recalling his years in the service. "This is really a proud day for me, and it is an honor to have the station bear my name."
Smith also said during the ceremony that the Echo Company station is considered "crucial" because of its strategic location, and will also be used to provide assistance to the district’s other stations — including the Bordeaux Multipurpose Center, which other speakers said will continue to remain open.