EFFINGHAM, Ill. (WCIA) — A once-vacant building is now home to Effingham’s newest fire station.

Firefighters had to celebrate the grand opening of the station on West Jaycee Avenue — virtually. They moved in February, right before the COVID-19 pandemic began. Firefighters had been planning the move for awhile because their old building didn’t serve their needs.

“It was built back in the era when fire service really wasn’t concerned about cancer prevention, there really was no thought about adding quarters for female firefighters … The apparatus was much smaller than what you see today so basically the building had outgrown its usefulness,” says Chief Bob Tutko.

Fire officials had been considering building the new station at an empty lot but building from the ground up would have been expensive. They saw an empty building and decided to renovate. Tutko says the plan saved taxpayers more than $1 million.

The new station has a lot of upgrades, including individual bunk rooms, a locker room and storage facilities for gear.

“There’s a laundry room so you don’t have to listen to the laundry going on and off at all hours of the night. And the engine room — there’s lots of room to move, there’s breathing room or elbow room the other engine room was very, very small,” says Lieutenant Tim Metcalf.

Another important part of this facility is the fitness room.

“One of the things that we’re really working on is health and safety. And heart attacks are still the leading cause of death for firefighters so having a gym in the fire station that provides them strength training as well as cardiovascular exercise,” says Tutko.

The new station isn’t far from the old one but it makes a world of difference in how these firefighters can serve and in how they can grow.