Aging Hamilton fire stations getting needed renovations

Fire trucks today are bigger and much heavier than they were 80 to 110 years ago, when two of Hamilton’s fire stations — in Lindenwald and in the 600 block of Main Street — were built.

Also, in recent years, women have joined the city’s fire service, a change the city welcomes and wants to encourage further. But with that change comes the need for separate showering and sleeping areas.

Those are reasons Hamilton is looking to make alterations to two of its fire stations, and this week began work on a third. Costs of the yet-to-happen work on the two stations are unknown.

Station upgrades and needs for other safety-force equipment were among reasons Hamilton officials cited earlier this summer in proposing an income-tax increase for city residents who work outside the city. City Manager Joshua Smith later abandoned that request after a significant majority of people who spoke at a public hearing opposed the idea.

Smith had cited two reasons for the request, which would have reaped an additional $1.5 million per year for Hamilton: Safety-equipment needs, and plans to improve roadways to serve the proposed gigantic indoor sports complex called Spooky Nook at Champion Mill, along North B Street.

On the positive side, the city learned July 13 it will receive a $470,000 federal grant to replace firefighter breathing equipment this year.

“With all of our stations in general, we have large equipment,” said Fire Chief Mark Mercer, as he stood next to a 19.5-ton Engine 26 on Laurel Avenue in the Lindenwald neighborhood. “As trucks have gotten more modern, we’re carrying more equipment, the trucks are bigger.”

“The trucks really don’t fit into this station the way the older ones did,” he said about the station, built in 1910, which also houses an ambulance for medics.

When Mercer started with Hamilton in 1989, “this station made about 650 calls. This year, they’re going to make around 2,800 calls out of this station.”

The typical three-person staff at the Lindenwald station either rides in a medic-unit ambulance or a fire truck.

To support the heavier equipment, “We had some concrete that had some cracks in it” on the station’s floor beneath the trucks, Mercer said. “I think we did a repair to it maybe 25 years ago, where we milled off some of the floor. They went through and they replaced the concrete on the top. With the station being so old, now we’re seeing that we need to put some supports underneath.”

“We’re working with an architect, and they’ve designed a shoring system for us, so we’re going to do some work down there,” he said.

“We’re looking at how do we stay in the station as long as we can, how do we get it funded and budgeted, if we’re going to move out of that station or build another location,” he said. “I don’t see that happening in the short-term. I would look at, if I get my wish-list, probably five years, but that is all dependent on economy.”

At the 605 Main St. station, next to the Main and Millville intersection, alterations are needed for privacy, Mercer said.

Meanwhile, at Station 21, located at 220 N. Brookwood Ave., a $93,000 building modification started Monday. Funded completely by Community Development Block Grants, the work will allow the medic unit now at 605 Main St. to move to Brookwood Avenue. That work should be finished in early September, with the move expected to happen Sept. 24.

“We wanted to get that medic unit closer to the customers it serves,” he said.

The Brookwood station’s building will not grow, but its interior will be reconfigured to accommodate the ambulance unit. To make room, some of the gym space will be reduced.

In the longer term, “we know looking at where the stations sit, where the fires are, where our EMS (emergency medical service) demand is,” Mercer said. “They’re not all in the best places.”

In a major financial boon, the city received about $470,000 in federal grants for firefighters’ self-contained breathing apparatus, which the city will match with about another $47,000 to replace all the department’s 81 units.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, recently touted the grant with a news release: “We must support our first-responder organizations so that communities like Hamilton have the resources to shield families and homes from fire hazards,” he said.

The grant “is a big thing,” Mercer said, “because whether we got the grant or not, that had to come this year because under Department of Transportation regulations, they were expired — after 15 years, you’ve got to get rid of them.”

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