By Ron Leir
They’re halfway there. The South Kearny Fire and Police Station on John Miller Way now has a full-time presence by the Fire Department. But police are still waiting.
Until recently, the Fire Department was staffing its one company at the isolated location off S. Hackensack Ave. which serves the town’s industrial area from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. only. At night, the three-member crew shifted uptown to Headquarters Co. for sleeping quarters.
But as of Dec. 28, the company moved into the Miller Way facility on a permanent basis, occupying separate dormitorystyle rooms created within the confines of two trailers, each about 36 feet-by-40 feet, fitted inside the cavern-like station building on a supporting platform.
Sitting just below the trailers, also inside the building, are three fire rigs: a pumper engine, an apparatus that dispenses foam to douse chemical spills and/or fires, and an Army surplus truck that can be deployed in emergencies, such as rescuing people trapped by flood waters.
A third trailer, about 36 feet-by- 20-feet, is reserved for the Police Department, which has a separate entrance to its space.
Fire Chief Steven Dyl said the town had been waiting for delivery and installation of “furniture, computers and phones” before assigning Group 4, as that company is known, to the facility full-time.
“We’re still waiting on some additional furnishings [such as a kitchen table to replace the one now in use that was donated by a local industry] and the police are waiting on communications equipment, but at least now we’re able to be there 24/7,” Dyl said.
Fire Capt. Michael Hyde, who is staffing the fire facility with Firefighters Dave Myers and Martina Smith, said that aside from the new kitchen table, “we’re waiting on desks, chairs, additional lockers, pots and pans and plates for the kitchen.”
Being situated at the facility – even if it is in trailers – on a 24-hour basis is still “a good thing,” Hyde said, when factoring in the response time to an alarm in South Kearny. “From uptown, it can be a little crazy sometimes,” Hyde said.
National Fire Protection Association guidelines call for a response time of four minutes for the initial fire company to reach a location from the time an alarm is received and eight minutes for all companies assigned on the first alarm but Hyde said that it can take anywhere “from 12 to 15 minutes” just to reach a location in the town’s low-lying meadows area from Kearny Ave. Time is a critical factor in attacking a fire – particularly with an industrial fire where there is a potential for a chemical explosion and loss of life.
Problems associated with the South Kearny facility began in 2007 when the town’s construction officer Michael Martello declared the structure unsafe because the flooring supporting the police section of the building was sinking.
“We determined it’s going to cost $2.4 million to fix the entire building,” Martello said.
The town subsequently sued the architect for malpractice and was awarded $900,000 in damages but the amount of the award is under appeal.
In the meantime, the town relocated both the police and fire personnel from the building for safety reasons since if the property continued to settle, there was the possibility that an underground gas line could rupture and trigger an explosion.
As an interim step, Kearny leased a space in a warehouse known as Building 42A on S. Hackensack Ave., near the closed facility, to house the fire company, where it remained for the next five years, until Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast in late October 2012 and flooded Building 42A.
Once again, it was moving time for Fire Group 4 and this time, the Jersey City Fire Department provided temporary quarters in one of its firehouses in the city’s West Side section which happened to be on Kearney [different spelling but pronounced the same] Ave.
Six months later, it was back to uptown Kearny at Headquarters Co. as the newly restored South Kearny facility began taking shape and by fall 2013 the company worked out of there during daylight hours, returning to uptown Headquarters to bed down.
And then, just before New Year’s, the company was assigned full-time to South Kearny, hopefully ending its odyssey.
Meanwhile, Police Chief John Dowie said his officers have access to their portion of the site “around the clock” when they need to be there “to write accident reports, fill out forms” in connection with incidents based at South Kearny locations, including the Pulaski Skyway, the Hackensack River bridge and Rts. 1&9.
But the station is still awaiting the installation of the enhanced 9-1-1 emergency communications system, which got wrecked by flooding and which, according to Martello, will cost $250,000 to replace and there’s no indication where the town will come up with the financing.
“We’re taking baby steps,” Dowie said recently. “After all, we just got our C.O. (certificate of occupancy).”