Up in the attic of the Moran firehouse last week, Matt Redwine’s boots gripped the asphalt shingles of a firehouse building that once lived at Hoback Junction.
Back in the early 1980s, the structure was built over an existing building, which had been trucked up the highway. Nearly four decades later the resourceful approach to constructing Firehouse 4 in Moran has caused an uninvited, though not wholly unpredictable, problem.
Guano. All over the place.
“Yeah, this is all sh-t here, looks like,” Battalion Chief Redwine said at one feces-filled corner. “Turd city.”
Visually, the buildup of bat poop was underwhelming. The guano — which is harvested in some countries and used for fertilizer — looks basically like the feces of bat’s terrestrial rodent cousins: mice. In parts of the odd attic, bats that had invaded the space had sprinkled excrement for an untold number of years. Other areas, including much of the sloped former Hoback firehouse roof, were turd free.
Redwine learned that the desiccated fecal cylinders were everywhere earlier this year when a water pipe broke. He also learned that it wasn’t a do-it-yourself cleanup job, because guano has some noxious qualities.
“There’s a disease you get from it,” Redwine said. “And the shots that you have to get, 25 grand.”
The disease, histoplasmosis, is an infection caused by breathing in spores of a fungus often found in bird and bat droppings, according to the Mayo Clinic. For infants, older adults and people with compromised immune systems, it can be a life-threatening affliction.
Bat infestations in the woodsy parts of Jackson Hole aren’t anything new, especially in older buildings that aren’t entirely sealed from the elements.
There have been infestations in other parts of Moran. In 2004 Grand Teton National Park had to vacate Beaver Creek Building No. 10, used as office space for about 20 employees, when the envelope between the roof and ceiling was found to be “bulging” with bat guano, according to the News&Guide archives.
“It has been very difficult to keep it rodent proof,” park spokeswoman Joan Anzelmo said at the time. “It has had a great bat infestation.”
Redwine and others reached for this story were unclear what species of bats squeezed their way through vents and cracks into the Station 4 attic. Grand Teton National Park embarked on a multi-year study to assess its bat populations using echolocation, and scientists Dave Gustine and Shan Burson found there were six species that were widespread and common: the little brown, big brown, hoary, silver-haired, long-legged and long-eared bats.
What Redwine has learned about the bats he’s dealing with is that they are migratory and federally protected.
“They’re migratory, and it starts late May, early June,” Redwine said. “If you already have bats, you’re not legally allowed to close the building and stop them from going in and out until they migrate away.”
Former Moran firefighter Paul Cote, who’s now the facilities manager for Teton County, is advising Redwine on the project, having dealt with bat infestations before.
“Bats are very beneficial to the environment,” he said. “We consider them a good thing to have around. We just don’t want to have them inside of the buildings.”
To stay in the law’s good graces, Moran firefighters screened and sealed the building ahead of the bats’ summer arrival.
Teton County bid out the cleanup, decontamination and remediation work and attracted three interested businesses. Jackson firm Blue Sky Services and Restoration won out with a $23,850 quote, which is being covered by Teton County’s insurance carrier, the Wyoming Association of Risk Management.
Blue Sky will remove the guano and insulation, vacuum out the space and treat the wood with an anti-fungal solution. The plan is to reinstall a higher-quality insulation, which means that the project could save some money over the long-term, Redwine said.