Fire Department HQ doubles as museum

WINDER - For more than 10 years, Winder's fire chief has been collecting memorabilia from the city's 97-year firefighting history. Now, he has a place to display it.

The new headquarters of the Winder Fire Department opens today, with an open house from 2 to 4 p.m., and Fire Chief Raymond Mattison has made the space as much a museum as a place to conduct the business of the Fire Department.

There are pictures of the city's first motorized fire truck, an axe belonging to a former chief and the helmet and coat of Buddy Ouzts, the city's mayor and a former firefighter. Pictures of Winder's volunteer firefighters line the walls, and the bell off an old ladder truck is displayed prominently in the lobby, flanked by two red fire hydrants.

A statue dedicated to the past and future of the city's fire department sits among the antiquities.

"In another life, I was a decorator, but I can't tell people that," Mattison said, a smile on his face. "I can't nail two boards together, but I knew how it was going to look."

For the past 13 months, firefighters have worked to turn the old City Hall into an appropriate fire headquarters. They have painted the walls, rewired electricity and put doors back on their hinges. They spent this weekend in a frenzy, finishing last-minute details and hanging pictures, scurrying around the space in paint-stained clothes.

The city donated the space to the Fire Department when it moved to its new headquarters on East Athens Street giving the fire department much-needed space, Mattison said. Before the move, it was cramped into a small area attached to the city's police department. Fire trucks and firefighters' bunks will still be in that space, with more room for on-duty firefighters to work. The fire marshal will now have an office, and there will be a separate area for customer service.

Mattison said he wanted the headquarters to emphasize the importance of working together and be a sign of the vibrancy of the department, which will celebrate its centennial in 2008.

"I wanted to have something that looked very nice and was very meaningful in the city," he said. "I want people to walk through and see it spit-shined and see that this community is special. We're proud to protect it."