SEEKONK - Town and state officials, along with current and past members of the fire department, gathered Sunday for the dedication of the Banna Fire Station on Pine Street.
The building is named in memory of fallen firefighter Richard Banna, a 29-year-old Vietnam veteran who died while responding to a house fire on Dec. 14, 1977.
The station was first dedicated to Banna in June of 1978. A stone memorial in front of the building bears his name.
"This whole town was in mourning," recalled town resident Mark Drapeau, whose house was destroyed on that fateful day.
"His spirit will live on," said Drapeau, who donated a plaque with a poem to Fire Chief Michael Healy.
Selectman Gary Sagar said it was a "bittersweet day," and recalled the long struggle to finish the project after nearly six years.
The need for enhanced rescue coverage in the North end of town motivated then-Fire Chief Alan Jack to request funds for a renovation of the facility.
At the May 2009 town meeting, $750,000 was approved to refurbish the 74-year-old building.
Voters at last March's town meeting approved $687,491 in funding for the project.
The total cost added up to $1.4 million.
There were numerous obstacles faced by the building committee.
A lawsuit by one of the station's neighbors delayed the project for a year. The building committee also went through a number of reorganizations.
Last summer, work on the project had been halted due to some problems with the modular contractor.
The old station was completely demolished and a groundbreaking ceremony was held in October 2013. It was expected to be completed last spring.
Warren Carpenter, the head of the building committee, said the building isn't quite complete. Carpenter hopes it will be operational before the end of the year.
The building has living quarters for firefighters on the second floor, and a training room on the first floor. The new station will allow for 24-hour emergency service. The old Banna station had only been manned six hours a day.
"Being a firefighter was one of his greatest loves," said Banna's widow, Joy, in a letter which was read by Sagar.
"He made the ultimate sacrifice for his hometown," Joy noted.
State Sen. James Timilty, D-Walpole, also paid tribute to Banna and to the dedication of all firefighters.
"We should always be mindful of what they do for us," Timilty said.
State Rep. Steve Howitt, R-Seekonk, Police Chief Craig Mace, former fire chief David Viera, and Selectmen Dave Parker, Nelson Almeida, and David Andrade were also in attendance.
The Rev. John Amaral gave a blessing over the building and led the attendees in prayer.
JOSEPH S. SIEGEL covers Seekonk for The Sun Chronicle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.