The front lawn hasn't been landscaped. The kitchens and exercise rooms are still being stocked. Boxes of equipment are waiting to be unloaded. Paintings line the floor, waiting to be hung on the wall. The ribbon-cutting ceremony is still over three months away -- it's set for September 8.
But business is resuming at the 's new headquarters at 45 North Main Street. It was a long journey, one that took fifteen years, all told, and required a $12.5 million bond from the city, but today the station is up and running.
Fire Chief is moving into his new office -- like most rooms in the building, far more spacious than what he and the squad had been used to. The station officially launched Tuesday at noon, and Wednesday was its first full day of operation.
"There's so much we didn't have before," he says. (Click through the gallery above to see some examples.)
Ahern left his office to take me on a tour of the building. Firefighters were setting up their living quarters, lounging near the kitchen, and enjoying vastly expanded personal space: bunks, lockers and a communal area complete with leather armchairs and a big-screen TV.
The technology has been upgraded, too. Ahern points out the new dispatch screens installed throughout the building - an IP-based system displayed on flat-screen TVs, a far cry from the old mechanical system Ahern and his generation were used to, the one installed way back in 1962 when the old firehouse opened.
"It was a little difficult to adjust to the surroundings last night," he says. "There was a sense of uneasiness." The firefighters were used to the routine of the old system, and some don't trust the IP system -- they worry about lost connections and missed reports. But Ahern isn't worried.
"There's apprehension that we might miss a call, but I'm confident we won't. This system is just as good as the old one -- it's just different."
But other than that, the transition has been fairly smooth. After just a day and a half, the crew is beginning to adjust.
"Oh, trust me, they're all happy with how things are running," says Ahern. "For one, there's this." He flips open a thermostat and punches a few buttons, then smiles.
"Climate control. We didn't have this in the old building." Cool air flows through the room. For the firefighters who sleep here on hot summer nights, it'll be a blessing.
The list of improvements and expansions is substantial. A seven-door apparatus room (the garage for fire trucks and ambulances) -- the old building had four doors. A training tower with a variety of practice components (previously, firefighters had traveled to New Haven to train.) Individual rooms for public meetings and Fire Commission sessions. A generator easily capable of keeping the entire building going through extended power outages. An array of solar panels on the roof that provide around 12% of total energy -- the result of a $101,000 grant from the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund. The list goes on.
Ahern, along with Fire Commission chairman Bob Massey, is one of the generation who remember how it used to be. Both say they've heard the criticism about the scope of the project.
"Listen, I can say that I've been around," laughs Massey. "The fire department has changed a lot since '63 ... If things had been different, if that old building had had a second floor put in [a discussed alternative to a new building], maybe we wouldn't be here right now. Maybe we'd just be renovating the old building. But there is no question, we did the right thing."
When talk of a new building started in the late 1980s, Massey was captain of the ladder company. He was one of the leaders in the push for the new building.
"People call it the Taj Mahal -- the palace," he says. "I say, hey. It's built for the future. It's built to adapt, build to last. One hundred years from now, this building is still going to be here.
"This building is going to serve the town well."