Summit Fire Department looks for new home

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SUMMIT, NJ — Fire Chief Eric Evers said there are memories everywhere he turns inside the firehouse.
“A lot of guys have gone through here,” he said. “I always say that when it comes to the job, it’s a second family. You live together, you sleep together, you cry together. It was all done in this building.”

The station at 396 Broad St., is old, antiquated and not cost effective, he said. Leaving behind the firehouse that has been home to the department since 1901 will be bittersweet, but the department needs a new headquarters, Evers said.

At the June 21 council meeting, plans were unveiled for a new firehouse costing an estimated $11.8 million. The new building would be situated on Broad Street adjacent to the NJ Transit Parking Lot and feature several upgrades and additions.

The proposed station would include a decontamination area for firefighters to remove their gear and clean up.
Evers said the 32 paid firefighters and 12 volunteers often face hazardous conditions in the field. Some of the substances they encounter can get on their gear and clothes and disperse into the station.

“A perfect example, this morning we went to an auto accident down at the Watchung Reservation,” Deputy Chief Don Nelson said June 26. “You may not think of poison ivy as a contamination, but it is. We’re working in the woods and the guys are in poison ivy. So, something as simple as washing our gear out here now becomes a big thing. Not to be overkill here, but where’s the poison ivy going? Just imagine if that was a hazmat (hazardous materials) call?”

Everywhere there are signs that the building has passed its prime. In the landing near the firefighters’ kitchen is an old-style steam radiator. Exterior brick on
the 1901 section is chipped and weathered. The roof leaks. The sleeping quarters are spartan.

The center part of the current station dates to 1901, when horses were used to pull wagons. In 1948, the east portion of the building was added. In 1968, the west part was built. In the 1990s, some minor updates were made inside the building.

And then there are the problems that don’t meet the eye. For example, Nelson said there is an inadequate power supply to the building.
“The building is maxed out electrical-wise,” he said. “I don’t know what the proper word is. We can’t increase the power to the building. You would have to run a whole new service, the whole deal. It’s functionally obsolete.”

Even the bays where firefighters perform routine maintenance on the engines and trucks were designed for smaller vehicles, creating cramped spaces.
Two of the bays cannot be used for drainage because the system malfunctions.

The plans for a new station date back to 2012, when a consultant was hired to look at the feasibility of building a new one on the current site, Evers said. The study revealed a bigger lot was needed and that triggered the question of what it would take to build a new one, he said.

The LeMay, Erickson, Willcox Architects firm was hired and a plan was created; after the size of the proposed new station was established, the search for a site began.

Evers said the fire station must remain centrally located so that response times to all areas of the city would be equal.
He wasn’t sure how the city would pay for the proposed station, saying that would be a job for city Administrator Mike Rogers and the Finance Committee. There is no timetable for construction, but Evers said he thinks the town is “staying on track.”

Nelson said it seemed as if the council was supportive of the plans.
“Will there be some hurdles? Of course,” he said. “There are always some hurdles. A couple of questions were asked about parking. Parking is big issue in Summit and anytime you affect parking, it opens another whole can of worms. But that’s a topic for a different day. I felt pretty confident after the presentation.”

Some of the firefighters said a new station would help them better serve the city, but would also be a breath of fresh air.
“It would be boast in morale, no question, a newer building,” Tom Murphy, a fourth-generation Summit firefighter, said. “The only thing tying us here is
history.”

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