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The city of Bonne Terre will be the recipient of a new firehouse in coming months and work has already started on the old Bonne Terre School gymnasium.

Bonne Terre/Big River Fire Chief Dave Pratte said the old gymnasium is being modified into a fire station.

“We have been blessed by Mr. Sharo Shirshekan to take that project on. He is actually doing it for us,” Pratte said. “It will have big red doors on the front of it and there will be an apron on the front of it. It will really look nice for the community. That will give us the opportunity to grow as a fire department.”

Pratte said there will be assets in there that their other fire departments don’t have such as showers for men and women, a training area and space for the community to come for a cooling station or heating area. As they move forward there will also be a ladder truck purchased and that will help their ISO rating, and in turn, the community will reap the reward of that with lower insurance rates.

 “There will be a day room for the men and a kitchen, so as we progress forward they will have a place to stay with up-to-date offices and a conference room, everything that goes with being a fire station,” Pratte said. “This is a huge deal. If you look at it through the eyes of the firefighters, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our community.”

Pratte said he has known for several years that Shirshekan had been interested in making the old building a fire station and it is finally going to happen. He said it’s not every day someone steps up forward to give such a gift, not only for the firefighters, but for the community.

Shirshekan purchased the old Bonne Terre School buildings approximately 13 years ago and has converted the building over the years. He started with city hall and a new police department and then created apartments and a nutrition center. He has held onto the old gymnasium in hopes the city council would eventually agree on a use for the building. He addressed the city council several times on his vision of a fire department and the council never acted on the offer. It wasn't until recently Shirshekan offered it to the city one more time. 

“It’s a really a big deal for our community, more than people realize,” Pratte said. “I know there is a lot of nostalgia there. People say that is their old gymnasium. It’s going to change. It is but we are keeping the scoreboard in there and some of the basketball goals and we actually saved some of the wood from the floor to make conference tables with and the emblem that was painted in the middle of the floor will be put inside a fire emblem up on the wall.”

Pratte said there are a lot of things going well with this project and he saved the concrete benches that were out front that were donated by different classes. 

“This is huge for our community and once moved over we will not maintain the current firehouse,” Pratte said. “The rural stations will stay where they are at and we will have a lot of work ahead of us to finish merging these two stations together.”

Pratte said eventually they will try to form a fire district and as they form this fire district, the city will reap the rewards as much as the rural community. They will have fire stations in different locations, which will mean they are closer to community members’ homes, even in the rural district.

“It’s a win-win for all the people who are involved in this and as this goes along we will be able to manipulate the trucks a little bit and put one down there and then one up here,” Pratte said. “That way, no matter where we have a fire at, we will have the right apparatus in place.

"It’s all about time, life is time and getting on scene.”

Pratte explained the city has not made a determination of how they will handle the current building, but when they move out of it, then the time will come to decide how to handle that. He said have outgrown the building as far as fire trucks.

“The fire trucks are getting taller and longer and they will continue to do that,” Pratte explained. “They are building them now where one truck is supposed to do more work. I remember at one time in my younger years, there were 10 trucks in that fire station. Right now I have four siting there.”

Pratte said right now that whole station is 47-feet deep, so if they put a 40-foot truck in there they are done, because they can’t function around it.

“The city council has told me to continue with it and all the stuff will come along,” Pratte said. “I think we are going to get it done. When I talk about this I get teary-eyed, I have been a firefighter since I was 10. It has been 54 years, and I believe this is one of the best things that has happened to our community as far as fire service. We have always had our ups and downs with different things in the fire service, but hopefully we are on our way up to the next level and I think things will be good.”

Pratte said Shirshekan has told him the project will be complete in six months, which will put it in June, but Shirshekan hopes to finish the project before then. Pratte added that it is a huge undertaking to get that building ready to go.

“It was a gym floor, so there were no drains in it, so he physically had to go in and cut the concrete to make drains,” Pratte said. “He will have to go back and pour 6 to 8 inches of concrete, with steel on top of that, which is a huge amount of money, to hold the fire trucks up.”

Pratte said there are a lot of modifications going into this and Shirshekan has a lot of passion to do this. Pratte said Shirshekan will tell you right now that it is not him, it is God.

“I just have to believe that the man upstairs is guiding us to do this for our community,” Pratte said. “I think he puts us in the right place at the right time for all of that. It is very exciting and every day I wake up with a new goal in mind.”

Pratte wanted to thank the city council for their support in what they do. Without them and the citizens they wouldn’t be able to do what they do. 

“We just happen to be the firemen and I happen to be the chief,” Pratte said. “It’s about all the people. It’s not about one or two of us. It’s about the whole group of people who are in this community pulling together and getting something done.”

Pratte said he does hope that once the doors are open everyone who had gym class in there will come out to see what they have saved and see the changes. He wants them to know they aren’t going to let the building fall down anymore, they are going to save the building.

“In our hearts you can’t take that school away from us, it is still there,” Pratte said. “But we can change some and the plus is everything that comes back to us after we do it. A lot of things could happen to it and wouldn’t be what it is going to be for the community.”

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Renee Bronaugh is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3617 or rbronaugh@dailyjournalonline.com

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