Fire department goes green for stimulus funds

What Mother Nature took away, stimulus money could restore.

At least that's what the Silver Bluff Fire Department is hoping for. It recently applied for stimulus funds to help rebuild its Williston Road headquarters, which were destroyed four months ago by a tornado.

To make itself competitive in its application for money designated for building, refurbishing or expanding fire stations, Silver Bluff is turning to an energy-efficient design.

"The grant requirements were written for the deployment of green technologies, sustainable design and alternate energy," department spokesman Kevin Lancaster said in an e-mail. "To this end, the (Silver Bluff) department contacted Savannah River National Laboratory ... to partner with and provide consulting service regarding alternate energies and hydrogen technologies to be utilized in the design."

The grant became available in June, and the awards should be announced starting next month and continuing into November 2010, Mr. Lancaster said.

Damage to the headquarters was estimated at $500,000, but Mr. Lancaster said the department received only about $250,000 in insurance money. He said the department hopes to secure the remaining funds from the stimulus grant. If that money isn't approved, he said, the department would be "back to bare bones" in its design to make it affordable.

The department has already purchased two replacement fire trucks using insurance money, and a temporary building has been constructed.

As for a new headquarters station, the fire department recently contacted architect and engineering firm Derrick and Dunlap, of Columbia, to develop a conceptual design. It has also been coordinating with the Aiken-Edgefield Economic Development Partnership to incorporate "zero-energy" designs into the station. Such designs use solar panels and other energy-efficient technologies to generate enough power to feed electricity back to the power company, causing the meter to run backwards.

Mr. Lancaster said the stimulus money for fire stations will be highly competitive, with only 100 or so grants being awarded.

"The odds are stiff, but the department believes that with the partnering expertise we utilized in our grant application, we have a better-than-average chance of being successful," he said.

In the meantime, Mr. Lancaster said, Silver Bluff will continue to operate from a temporary shelter at the site -- a "modest" 24-by-40-foot pre-engineered building -- and a satellite station on Silver Bluff Road.

Reach Preston Sparks at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com.