Salem Fire Building not Designed to Today’s Standards

January 9, 2015

by S. Aaron Shamshoyan“It is what it is.”  The five words often used to describe Central Fire Station by firefighters working in a building designed for an on-call staff.

Fire Chief Kevin Breen said the building wasn’t designed for today’s standards.  “It really wasn’t built to support today’s fire apparatus,” he said.

A tour through the department shows failing pavement, repurposed rooms, aging infrastructure, structural damage and an overall lack of space.

Starting in the parking lot, Breen points out cut and broken pavement, the result of contaminated soil mitigation.

“It’s a patchwork of pavement out here,” he said.  “Every part of this parking lot has been cut up and it’s likely to continue.

The soil mitigation and test wells are from failed underground gas and diesel tanks, which have since been removed.

Entering the building, the lobby is heated by a portable electric heater due to a lack of mechanical heating.  There is also no ADA access to upstairs administrative offices.  A full flight of stairs needs to be climbed to access many resident services.

Passing through a lobby door enters the kitchen, which has a hand-built table by the firefighters, and cooking area.  The table also serves as the main conference room and paramedic work area for walk in emergencies.  Breen said modern facilities feature a dedicated paramedic room such as a hospital room.

The bathroom facility off the kitchen was originally the only one in the station and also houses an extraction device for firefighter clothing, designed to remove carcinogens.

“You have something that’s designed to remove carcinogens out of clothing in the same place you use the bathroom,” Breen said.  “It’s the only place we had water in the station.”

Moving to the apparatus floor, Breen points out a lack of space, both high and wide.

A low ceiling shows signs of being hit by the large equipment, much bigger than was used by the station when the facilities were built in the early 1960s.

Most of the trucks can’t drive through the bays, and have to be backed in.  The low ceiling height also means vehicles have to be worked on lying on the floor.

“Every work that’s done on a truck is done on a creeper,” Breen said, adding trucks can only be lifted a few inches.

Protective clothing is stored on racks in the middle of the floor, which does not follow modern standards.

“In a modern fire house, it’s required to be stored in its own room with negative pressure,” he said.

When stored in the central garage, the ladder truck stretched from end to end and only clears the ceiling by about two inches.

Breen said the station actually has two less garage stalls than 50 years ago, as they were converted into living area and the emergency operations center room.

In that same space is a gym and office shared by three staff members: the lieutenant, EMS coordinator, and training coordinator.

Above that space are the bunkrooms, and second bathroom for firefighters.  The rooms contain twin mattresses and metal lockers.

Through a doorway headed toward the front of the building is a space, formerly a conference room and now a combination of storage, offices, and administrative space.

“We try to do the best we can,” said Breen, pointing out various administrative office spaces.

Breen said conferences and hearings are conducted in the undersized spaces, often having three or four people meeting in an office under 100 square feet.

When the station was originally built, no firefighters lived in the building, which was operated as an on-call facility.  Since then, at least nine firefighters live in the department at a time in a building that has changed minimally.

Breen said equipment has changed over the years also, increasing the need for more space.

“It should be done because it really needs to be done,” he said about a new facility.

Selectmen plan to propose a $23 million public safety complex before voters this March.  The facility would combine police and fire and be centrally located on Veterans Memorial Parkway.