By John Schaffner

Around May 1, a handful of Mount Paran-Northside Citizens Association members met at Atlanta Fire Station 27 and announced their association was going to raise funds to improve the living conditions for firefighters at Station 27, at 4260 Northside Drive NW in Buckhead.

Exposed electrical wires over the shower in a bathroom, a leaky roof and rotted wood throughout were just some of the items that produced unlivable conditions for the firefighters, but the city was allocating only $25,000 a year for renovations and repairs for the 36 fire stations in Atlanta.

Just after Labor Day, the association sent out letters and e-mail messages soliciting money in an attempt to raise $250,000 for the cause.

By Dec. 10, $172,000 had been raised by the neighborhoods surrounding and serviced by Station 27, and work officially started on the renovations.

The beginning of the renovations was “a shining moment for Atlanta Fire Rescue in what has been a dismal week for many neighborhood fire stations that will be closed or have their hours of service reduced,” said Lynne Moscow, a member of the Mount Paran-Northside association who has dropped off a holiday lunch for the firefighters for almost 20 years.

On Dec. 2, Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran announced that Station 23 on Howell Mill Road west of I-75 would be shut down through the end of the fiscal year June 30. He also announced that other budget cutbacks would likely cause “brownouts” at Station 26 on Howell Mill Road east of I-75, temporarily taking an engine or truck out of service. Both stations are key fire service providers to Buckhead.

But on Thursday afternoon, Dec. 4, Cochran and a couple of dozen of the city’s firefighters were smiling over the gift the neighbors who surround Station 27 brought them this holiday season.

Cochran told the 50 or so residents and firefighters at the ceremony: “These are very difficult times for the city of Atlanta. We have seen in this fiscal year the very real impact of the revenue shortfall to the city of Atlanta. They have impacted your Fire Department in a major way. We are so grateful for the dedication and commitment of the citizens that this fire station serves that you have engaged in efforts that are unprecedented to raise funds to renovate Fire Station No. 27.

“We need you to be advocates for our Fire Department all over the city of Atlanta. There are other fire stations that are in equal or greater need, and they need to know that citizens can do this if they set their minds to it. You are setting a good example for neighborhoods that have fire stations with conditions that are deteriorating. You are fitting examples to neighborhood associations and NPUs (neighborhood planning units), and I want to ask you to make it your agenda to tell the story of how you accomplished this great renovation of Station 27.”

The celebration of residents and firefighters took place almost a year after Moscow and two other association members, President Yolanda Adrean and Marci Vincent, came to the station to drop off the 2007 holiday lunch for the firefighters.

That holiday visit was a little different. The three women didn’t just deliver the lunch and go about their business. They spent some time with the firefighters and toured the station. They were appalled at what they saw.

After witnessing the conditions at the firehouse, the civic association rallied to the cause. Vincent was named to chair the Station 27 task force, and the association set out to engage architect Paul Muldawer to draw up plans for the renovations on a pro bono basis and go through channels at City Hall, with the help of City Council member Clair Muller, to get permission to raise the money for the project.

London Andes assumed the formidable task of heading up the drive to raise $250,000. Adrean, Moscow and Vincent are all optimistic the goal will be reached, maybe by the end of the year. After all, they were within $80,000 of their goal with more than three weeks left in 2008.

The total for the tax-deductible contributions does not include in-kind donations of tile, paint, copy services and landscaping services.

“We are extremely grateful for the generosity of the community, especially during these difficult economic times,” Vincent said in her remarks at what was called a groundbreaking ceremony Dec. 4.

As of Dec. 5, there had been 257 contributions, 172 from residents of the Mount Paran-Northside Citizens Association neighborhood and 85 from residents of other neighborhoods served by Station 27.

Many contributors in the Mount Paran-Northside neighborhood live in the southwestern portion of Sandy Springs. They benefit from an automatic aid agreement between Atlanta and Sandy Springs that routes Sandy Springs emergency calls to Station 27 when the emergency is closer to the Atlanta station than to any Sandy Springs fire station.

Attending the Dec. 4 event were Sandy Springs Dist. 6 Councilwoman Karen Meinzen McEnerny and Fire Chief Jack McElfish.

“Our task force is thrilled to begin this worthwhile community endeavor on behalf of our heroes at Fire Station 27,” Moscow said. “We hope to inspire other communities to do what they can to make conditions better for their neighborhood firefighters. Let’s pay it forward, one neighborhood at a time.”

There is still time to contribute to help reach the $250,000 goal for Station 27. For more information on the project, contact London Andes at 404-846-0016 or Marci Vincent at 404-869-6742.