Council Hears Case for New Fire Headquarters

Summit Mayor Ellen Dickson presents the Fire Prevention Week proclamation to Firefighter Tom Kirkland. Credits: Bob Faszczewski
Rose Howe receives a proclamation for her 104th birthday from Mayor Ellen Dickson as a neighbor looks on. Credits: Bob Faszczewski

SUMMIT, NJ—Although renovated four times since it was opened in 1902, the Summit Fire Headquarters is both too small and does not meet many other criteria to bring it up to recognized standards for a modern fire-fighting facility.

That is the conclusion presented to the Summit Common Council on Tuesday by Christopher Kehde of Lemay Erickson Willcox, the Virginia architectural firm hired to analyze the city’s fire headquarters, at 396 Broad Street.

Kehde pointed out that his firm has completed over 70 fire station and rescue organization projects, has won 14 station design awards, and that he has more than 17 years of experience in the field.

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The architect noted that an addition was built onto the 16,208 square foot city facility in 1948, and that it was renovated again in 1968 and 1996.  He added that the current headquarters is centrally located -- a quarter mile from the central business district with access to principal roadways.

Among the deficiencies of the headquarters he cited was the fact that when vehicle maintenance is performed each morning, access to some of the eight bays is blocked and, at times, fire apparatus when parked on the apron juts as much as 10 feet into traffic on the street in front of the headquarters.

In addition, the configuration of the apron caused fire trucks to tie up traffic when exiting the site because of the large turning radius required.

He said erection of a 50-foot apron would enable the department to park trucks completely on the site.

Other deficiences cited were:

  • The sidewalk in front of the firehouse is not designed to hold heavy equipment, which has resulted in cracking in several places.
  • Twenty-four parking spaces on the site, along with the presence of outdoor storage facilities and the fact the parking area is shared with an adjacent commercial business, do not allow sufficient space for vehicles belonging to the 37-member staff at the headquarters.
  • The fueling station on Cedar Street is inadequate and outdated, sometimes leading to spills on the site.
  • The training area is the headquarters, which, by modern standards, should accommodate 30 people in a class, currently holds only 19.
  • The outdoor area for the 24-hour, seven-day-per-week operation only contains a small grilling area, a few benches, and a small basketball court.
  • The hose tower serves both circulation and storage purpose -- a dual-purpose design which does not meet modern standards.
  • Other stairways in the facility do not have handrails, and they are not accessible by the handicapped.
  • Areas,where firefighters return from blazes with possibly contaminated gear, are not sufficiently separated from living quarters in the building.  Firefighters should be able to return from a fire, remove their contaminated gear, and have it laundered before entering other areas of the building — and the current structure does not allow this.
  • The facility is not designed for gender equality — with one toilet in the front administrative area for females, and without separate shower and sleeping facilities for female firefighters.
  • There is a shortage of storage areas throughout the building.
  • Security needs to be improved.  For example, when a piece of apparatus goes out on a call, bays often are left open and an unauthorized person can enter the empty firehouse.
  • For drainage of contaminants and moisture coming off trucks, there only are single floor drains in the bays, when French drains are recommended.
  • Kitchen, dining, bunk, and shower areas all are inadequate.
  • Plumbing and electrical systems are inadequate for the capacity needed in a modern facility.

Responding to Councilwoman Sandra Lizza, the architect said the current facility is inadequate to meet the needs of most modern fire departments.

He also told Councilman Michael McTernan that, providing the type of egress from the building in case a fire should happen inside would be difficult without a full renovation which, most likely, would be impossible on a site the size of the current headquarters.

Councilman Albert Dill, Jr., noting instances of peeling paint and worn pointing on bricks in the facility as items that were not touched upon by the architect, repeated his call for a tour of the facility by the entire council at one time so they could see the scope of work needed on the headquarters.

On another matter related to the department, Mayor Ellen Dickson declared October 5-11 as Fire Prevention Week in the city, with emphasis on the installation and maintenance of smoke alarms in all buildings. 

She presented a copy of the proclamation to Firefighter Tom Kirkland.

The Mayor also declared October 5 as Rose Howe Celebration Day in honor of the Summit resident's 104th birthday.  Howe is a former ballerina, and helped assemble parachutes and sonar equipment for the armed forces.

She presented a copy of the proclamation to Howe.

On another matter, Paul Grosswald of 13 Irving Place, who is running as the Democratic candidate for common council from the First Ward this year, asked members of the governing body if any of them had a financial interest in bidding on real estate projects that were connected with matters coming before the council.

Council presidenr Robert Rubino, Jr. then asked city solicitor Thomas Scrivo if Grosswald’s request fell within the council’s rules.

Scrivo replied that he didn’t know if blanket polling of the council was allowed.  He added it was his understanding that all questions to the council had to be directed through the council president.  He also said he had instructed all members of the council on the proper way to conduct themselves in matters involving council business.

Scrivo also said council members had asked him questions that fell with the area of attorney-client privilege.

Grosswald then pressed Rubino about why the council president had recused himself on a council vote in June to approve the Summit Post Office site as a redevelopment area.  He also asked whether the council president had dealings with any real estate developers who might have an interest in the site.

Rubino replied that he had recused himself from the redevelopment proposal vote, and properly left the council chambers, when the vote was taken because he was friendly with a well-known developer in the city and that developer had expressed an interest in the post office site.

The council president said that he, personally, had no financial interest in the post office site.

When Grosswald pressed him if the developer he was speaking about was “Mr. Yeager,” the council president did not respond.

On another matter, the president of the Lincoln-Hubbard Parent-Teacher Association said that city elementary school parents were concerned about voters having full access to city schools on election day.  He added that the parents had requested that the city remove polling places from the schools.

The PTA president added the superintendent of schools Nathan Parker and school board president Celia Colbert had requested that the polling places be moved, that the city public library was available for voting, and that the Union County Board of Elections did not object to moving the polling places.

He also said that parents and other school visitors were required to furnish photo identification when entering the schools and asked the council, for safety reasons, to consider a change of polling places.



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