SUMMIT, NJ—The Summit Common Council on Tuesday voted to retain the architectural firm of Lemay Erickson and Willcox of Reston, VA, to determine whether the current city fire headquarters is adequate to meet the standards demanded of the city department and its mission.
In introducing the resolution for the $29,000 study, council public safety chairman Patrick Hurley noted that the fire headquarters, erected in 1901, was renovated in 1947 and 1968. It currently houses six pieces of fire-fighting apparatus and five supplementary vehicles.
However, he noted that the size of the department’s equipment has increased over time, and it is difficult to work on the equipment inside the headquarters bays. The equipment also cannot adequately fit on the aprons outside the headquarters, he added, and decompression facilities and the emergency services center are inadequate. In addition, the facility is not currently adequate for firefighters of both genders and it is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The results of the study, the public safety chairman added, will enable the city to determine whether the current headquarters can be brought up to 21st century standards of whether the city should build a new fire headquarters.
Councilman Albert Dill, Jr. noting that the current facility leaks in several places and has several other inadequacies, urged his fellow council members to hold a special meeting at the facility so they could see its shortcomings for themselves. He called the working environment in the facility “close to dangerous.”
Asked by council members how the Summit department was able to earn its recent accredidation if the headquarters was not totally adequate, Chief Joseph Houck replied that his crew members are very dedicated, “they live in the building 24 hours a day,” and they are able to make the necessary repairs to keep the facility operating so they are able to do their jobs efficiently.
However, the department’s recent experience with a ladder truck made Second Ward Councilman Richard Madden somewhat hesitant to commit to expending additional funds for the department.
Noting the council had budgeted $10 million for a possible new facility, Madden wanted to know why the department had recommended replacing of a ladder truck manufactured by a company, American LaFrance, that was out of business, with a new, $1.4 million model.
Houck replied that, when his department expected council approval for an expenditure it wrote the specifications for the equipment and it had to accept the lowest responsible bid, which was submitted by American LaFrance.
He said although the Millburn Fire Department had no maintenance problems with the same model American LaFrance truck that Summit was asking to replace, the Summit truck had been out of service for eight of the last 18 months and his firefighters had “lost confidence” in the equipment.
The chief also promised he would pursue federal grants to pay for the replacement ladder truck.
On another matter concerning equipment, the chief told Madden that, should Overlook Medical Center receive approval for operation of a helipad on its roof, the hospital’s driveway was not sufficient to handle Summit equipment in the event of an incident on the helipad.
He added, however, that the hospital had committed to adding another standpipe with foam-producing capability for fire suppression and also had pledged to train Summit fire crews in aviation fire safety so they could deal with incidents on the proposed helipad.
Asked by Second Ward Councilwoman Sandra Lizza how the architect was selected for the $29,000 study, Houck replied that the firm had built 70 firehouses in New Jersey and was working on an additional one in Willingboro.
Fire Lieutenant Paul Imbimbo also said he had attended a national conference in Phoenix where several architectural firms had spoken about fire department design and he looked at proposals from three of those firms before recommending Willcox because it most closely met the needs of Summit.
Houck also said there was no commitment to hire Willcox to design a new headquarters should one become necessary.
As for the breadth of the proposed study, Deputy Fire Chief Eric Evers noted that $29,000 study would measure the adequacy of current facilities but would not provide budgetary estimates of the cost of a replacement facility.
Houck noted a $95,000 study proposal voted down earlier this year by the governing body would have provided for a site for a new facility and would have been more specific about a replacement headquarters.
He added that, after the $29,000 study is completed, an overall study with an estimate for a new facility would cost about $84,000.
On another real estate-related matter, the council voted to add Lot 1 in the area of the current Summit Post Office to its recommendation for a study involving an area in need of redevelopment.
Council finance chairman Mike McTernan noted the addition of Lot 1 would give the city more options when it decides what ultimately should be done with the tract.
It is believed the post office eventually will move from its current location and there is a possibility that a private developer may want to combine the area behind the post office currently leased from the city as a parking lot with the rest of the site to create a private parking garage or similar facility.
The council also delayed action on a measure to decrease the size of the special improvement district board of trustes from 21 to 14 members because, according to Madden, the improvement district board had reservations about the ordinance as originally proposed.
In another action, the governing body introduced a $900,000 bond ordinance to pay for Summit’s share of $15 million in improvements to the sewerage facilities of the Joint Meeting, of which the city is a member along with a number of other Union and Essex County communities.
McTernan noted that, with the City of Elizabeth’s share not included in the proposal, Summit would be paying about 8 percent of the total improvement cost.
The sewer authority bond ordinance is scheduled for public hearing and possible final adoption on July 8 along wth a $740,000 capital ordinance for a number of city projects and pieces of equipment and a $200,000 capital ordinance for equipment and facilities improvements for the city parking agency.
On Tuesday, the governing body also adopted an ordinance setting salaries for city employees. It provides an average salary increase of 1.5 percent for 2014.