Before Wood & Huston Bank’s former headquarters was demolished, the community bank lent the space to a local fire department for critical, hands-on training.
By William Atkinson
If you are in the process of pulling up roots from an existing building and moving to a new facility, and if you plan to demolish the older building, there may be a way to provide a valuable service to your community—one that is so valuable that it may actually save lives in the future.
Such a scenario happened in August 2022 in Cape Girardeau, Mo., where $1 billion-asset Wood & Huston Bank closed an existing branch and moved to a new one right next door.
“The decision to close our old facility and build new was made in the spring of 2021,” says Kate Yarbro, vice president and branch manager of the Cape Girardeau branch. “The Huston family generously chose to build us a new facility after 40 years of life in our previous building.”
The building had been renovated and extended many times since it was built in 1980. While it was a hard decision to tear down a piece of history, Yarbro says the community bank’s staff is excited about it and looks forward to the next 40 years in its new building.
Shortly after the move, Yarbro was approached by Matt Mittrucker, battalion chief of training and safety for the Cape Girardeau Fire Department. He asked if it would be possible to do some training in the building while they were waiting for demolition to begin.
“After discussing it with some colleagues,” says Yarbro, “we decided it would be a great opportunity for the department’s training and could also have a positive impact on our community.”
“We often look for buildings in town that may be demolished but that are still in safe conditions that we can train with,” says Mittrucker. “Those opportunities rarely present themselves.”
Wood & Huston, he notes, “graciously allowed us full access to the old building, before demolition, without burning it due to the close proximity to other structures.”
Bringing in the battalion
The fire department has three shifts of 21 firefighters each who staff four engines and one ladder. Each shift was able to send crews at least twice for training before the building was demolished.
“Each crew trained several hours each day while rotating in and out, so that we could still provide emergency services promptly,” says Mittrucker. The multiday training incorporated many different skills that crews would need in an emergency.
“We had a positive reaction from every customer we saw, and I feel the community as a whole was excited to see our city’s fire department get to train.”
—Kate Yarbro, Wood & Huston Bank
“We accomplished search training for victims in large structures used for commercial purposes that have drastically different layouts than a normal residential structure,” Mittrucker adds. “We advanced charged hoselines into the structure and were actually able to spray water in order to practice water stream control.”
However, one of the best trainings was practicing roof ventilation on a real roof.
“Due to the nature of the action, we often can’t do this in training, because it destroys the roof by cutting smoke and relief holes into a structure using chainsaws and rotary saws,” he says. “This action greatly improves victim survivability and improved working conditions for the interior firefighters.”
“It was fun for us to see them training for a few days,” Yarbro says. “We had some people concerned at first that the bank was on fire, but we quickly spread the word that the fire department was just doing some training. We had a positive reaction from every customer we saw, and I feel the community as a whole was excited to see our city’s fire department get to train.”
The facility was demolished the first week of September, after training had been completed. At that time, Wood & Huston Bank arranged to have the lot graded and concrete poured.
A better customer experience
The new, open-concept facility includes additional parking, two ITMs and other features designed to give customers a more customized banking experience. According to Yarbro, the new branch is “a breath of fresh air and a modern take on banking. We are looking forward to creating our home here, and excited for the future.”
“Any opportunity to partner with a local business such as Wood & Huston is a win for both,” says Mittrucker. “It shows the bank’s devotion to its community and shows our community businesses that we are ready to respond to any emergency that may arise.
“Wood & Huston’s allowance for us to train made an impact on all the citizens of Cape Girardeau for the foreseeable future, due to the fact that our firefighters will be familiar in a similar situation when emergencies occur,” he adds. “It was truly a priceless opportunity.”
William Atkinson is a writer in Illinois.