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City Council tour highlights problem areas at fire departments

Feb. 01, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON — A small group of Huntington City Council members got a first-hand look Thursday at the deteriorating conditions of the Huntington Fire Department's stations.

The day-long tour, which covered all six stations and was guided by Fire Chief Randy Ellis, was organized by Councilman Dave Ball. Joining him were council members Pete Gillespie and Tom McGuffin and City Finance Director Deron Runyon.

Ball, a retired firefighter and chairman of the council's Public Safety Committee, said he organized the tour because of Mayor Steve Williams' desire to establish a long-term capital improvement plan. A tour of the Huntington Police Department and municipal court will take place sometime next week, Ball said.

"We can't truly create a capital improvement plan without seeing what the problems are and what we need," he said.

The tour focused on Westmoreland Station No. 8 on Camden Road and Centennial Station No. 1 in the 800 block of 7th Avenue. Those two stations suffer from the worst conditions, according to Ellis, and were recommended for replacement in a 2011 study of the Fire Department's operations by a private consulting firm.

The Westmoreland station is 87 years old and is outdated by modern fire house standards, Ellis said. The bay door is just barely large enough for the fire engine to squeeze through and the poles used for quick access from sleeping quarters to the garage were removed years ago because of safety concerns. The Westmoreland Fire Committee, a group of residents and retired firefighters who help oversee how Huntington's portion (approximately $40,000) of the Wayne County fire levy will be used at the station, has decided to not make any more improvements other than basic maintenance.

"It's gotten to the point where putting money into it is a waste," said Gene Mellert, a member of the committee. "Our goal is to replace it with a new fire station."

The Centennial Station is 42 years old, but it has had several problems stemming from water leaks and the heating and air-conditioning system. Black mold spots are on drop-ceiling tiles throughout the building, a concern cited in the 2011 study. The roof on the building and the HVAC system were both replaced last year, but fire department officials described the HVAC fix as a disaster. The project was a last-minute addition to an energy-savings contract that the city entered into with Honeywell.

"We were in a situation where we could either replace it as part of the energy-savings contract or wait a long time," Runyon said. "The only problem is there wasn't enough money in the contract to do it properly."

The new HVAC system includes 10 residential units scattered throughout the building. Fire codes require that they be enclosed, which has led to further expense and loss of office space. Air-ventilation ducts and piping run through the middle of offices and hallways, covering light fixtures in some areas. Ellis said no one understands why the ducts and piping were left exposed, especially after an independent engineer determined that there was room to run them above the ceiling.

The tour revealed a few more concerns for council members:

None of the fire stations has a back-up generator to provide power during outages. Firefighters at the St. Cloud No. 4 station said their duties were hindered in the aftermath of last June's derecho because they couldn't charge their portable radios and had to manually open and close the bay doors at the station.

Three fire stations -- Centennial, Guyandotte and University Fire Station on 20th Street -- still have communal sleeping quarters. Ellis said. That could pose problems in the future considering several women have submitted forms to take the civil service exam for the application period that ends Feb. 12, he said. The Fire Department now has only one female firefighter.

Gillespie, one of the council members on the tour, said he saw several immediate fixes such as replacing moldy ceiling tiles that would cost a minimal amount of money. The larger issue is determining whether the city should continue putting money into Centennial Station, he said.

"There's not much sense in putting money into something when it's so decayed," he said.

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