- Katherine Collins Staff Writer
A local woman’s donation of nearly $700,000 to the Springfield Fire/Rescue Division will go toward needed improvements are made at one of the city’s busiest fire stations.
Janice Calcaterra died at the age of 84 in March 2015. Her will directed part of her estate be given to the Springfield fire division, Chief Nick Heimlich said.
“It was completely unexpected,” he said. “It’s unspeakably heartwarming to be able to be part of something like that.”
Calcaterra began a relationship with the fire division after medics responded a few times to her home to help her husband, he said. The fire division responded on the day her husband died in 2005.
“She was a very quiet and kind and unassuming person,” he said.
She began to send letters and small donations to the division every so often and Heimlich always wrote back.
“It was an ordinary but it was a kind of wonderful relationship that developed over the years,” Heimlich said.
But he had no idea Calcaterra would make such a generous donation in her will to the firefighters.
“She had never suggested or mentioned anything to me in all the years that we had an opportunity to talk about anything,” he said.
Heimlich plans to use the money on permanent improvements, he said, beginning with an expansion to Fire Station No. 3 on Selma Road.
The improvements will cost about $400,000, he said, and are needed so that a modern fire engine can fit in the smaller station.
Now the station can only fit two trucks that are more than 20 years old, he said, well above their expected lifetime of 15 years. Maintenance costs on the vehicles are steadily increasing, but they can’t be replaced until the station is expanded so newer, larger engines can fit in there.
Station No. 3 was built in 1959, Heimlich has said, and is in need of an update. The plans call for an addition that would house fire and EMS vehicles, he said previously, while the old building would remain for use by the firefighters and medics as living quarters.
The Springfield Fire/Rescue Division performed more than 17,000 total runs last year — a 23-year high for a group that employs 127 firefighters and has an annual budget of about $13 million.
The Selma Road station answers about a fifth of all the fire and EMS calls in Springfield, the Springfield News-Sun previously reported, and it’s important to neighbors who live nearby.
“They are so close and so convenient and everybody just loves them here in this area,” Linda Glant said.
She was happy to hear that this donation would guarantee upgrades to the station.
“I mean for someone to do that,” she said. “You have to know that this fire department means something to everyone here in this area of the city.”
Heimlich originally planned to use $100,000 in grant money to cover some of the cost of the expansion, he said, plus $300,000 in matching funds from the city. Now the city will be able to use those funds in another way, he said.
“Janice’s gift will not only help the fire division here,” he said. “But it will help the city elsewhere in its budget.”
The city commission recently approved its 2017 budget that includes cuts to overtime for firefighters and the closure of a fire station.
Calcaterra’s donation won’t relieve the stress of those budget constraints, Heimlich said, but it will allow the division to better plan for the future knowing these funds are guaranteed.
“I want it to be used for something that’s important and needed,” he said.
Her attorney Charles Swaney said Calcaterra also gave the same amount of money to two other local institutions — First Christian Church and St. Bernard’s Catholic Church.