The South End Firehouse in Cedar Grove will get a major makeover this fall thanks to the efforts of Deputy Mayor Robert O’Toole and the township council.
At the July 16 township council meeting, South End Firehouse Company President Michael Flohn told council members the firehouse had “serious structural deficiencies” and was in need of repair.
The South End Firehouse is the oldest in town, having been built around 1940, largely from recycled materials from a factory that had been disassembled, according to Flohn. The firehouse is not owned by the township, but by the fire company itself.
The company has been concerned about structural problems for a few years now, but only brought it to the attention of the township this year after feeling they couldn’t safely wait any longer.
“On the rafters holding up the roof… the wood is starting to split,” Flohn said. “It probably happens after heavy snow falls. The center of the roof is coming down, causing the side walls to bow out.”
The repair costs are being bonded to not exceed $125,000, Flohn and O’Toole each said, and will not cause a tax hike. The bonds will be paid off over several years.
In exchange for the renovations, the township will no longer pay rent to the company.
“The volunteer fire department costs the town, not counting purchasing the [fire] engines, somewhere around $165,000 a year,” said O’Toole.
He called the arrangement a worthwhile and crucial investment and warned of severe consequences for residents if something isn’t done before winter.
“You couldn’t get a single fire chief full-time with benefits for that amount of money and we’re getting 70-some members, three chiefs, three captains, three lieutenants,” O’Toole said.
“It’s the best buy that the town could have,” he said. “If we decided that we’re not going to support the fire department anymore, you’d see an enormous increase in taxes.”
Not just taxes, either, according to Flohn.
Flohn said repairs would include replacing roof components, adding a new frame and windows to the structure, making the building water tight and revamping the electrical and heat and air conditioning.
The current building, he said, is not tall enough to house modern firefighting equipment. The renovations will also include removing the top floor of the firehouse and ultimately save the town money because the township and fire company won’t have to pay extra to customize new equipment to fit the dimensions of the current firehouse.
“You can’t lose the firehouse on the south end of town,” Flohn said. “If you do, you lose the fire rating on your home. That dramatically affects home-owners insurance rates, which are based on how close your house is to a fire department, a fire hydrant....”
The renovations will go out for bid, but any additional work not covered by the money will be completed by the firefighters themselves, many of whom are carpenters, electricians and plumbers, Flohn said.