A little more than a year after it was shuttered for emergency repairs, Kearny’s oldest firehouse is back in business.
Station 1, as it’s known in KFD parlance, reopened June 14 and the town conducted a ribbon-cutting ceremony June 27 at the facility, at 47 Davis Ave., in the Second Ward.
George Koustas Painting & Construction of West Long Branch was hired in late December to secure the roof which was found to be compromised last May when a contractor fixing the gutters noticed that a section of wooden plate just below the roof was bulging out on the north (Devon Terrace) side of the building.
Koustas was awarded a $347,000 contract to do repairs. Several change orders were later approved by the town’s governing body but the additional amount could not be learned as of press time.
Fire Chief Steve Dyl said the contractor replaced a chimney above the roof line, replaced the collar ties for the roof, installed new roof shingles, new floor joists, new flooring and fixtures in a first-floor bathroom and new flooring in the firefighters’ exercise room, reinforced a girder, put in new columns and ledger, bricked up some leaky windows and outfitted a new water heater.
Steel plates in the first floor front – where two KFD small fireboats will be placed atop a stackable trailer – are still to be painted and mounted, the chief added.
During the repairs, firefighters and the company’s single rig were shifted temporarily to the Midland Ave. firehouse. Now, all 18 personnel who work the four shifts and the apparatus are back.
“What a relief to be here today,” Mayor Alberto Santos said, noting that the facility “has faced numerous challenges” in its lengthy tenure – in particular, the notorious “Butler Report” of the early ‘90s, referring to a consultant’s recommendation for its closing.
Santos, in remarks are the reopening, referred to Station 1 as “the Firehouse That Could.”
Both Santos and Dyl acknowledged the facility’s strategic importance as a valuable protective resource for the area.
Recounting its history, Dyl said the fire station was originally known as the Central Hose Co. at its founding in January 1888 and was then located on Tappan St., just two short blocks from its current location. The company moved to 47 Davis in 1901, he said.
In 1926 the building got an addition and that supplemental space currently houses the company’s engine, Dyl said. The only other change to the original infrastructure came in 2010 when the front façade was redone, he said.
On May 27, 2016, the building was ordered closed by the town construction office as an unsafe structure. As part of the repairs, “the original linoleum was ripped off and replaced,” the chief said.
“This is the definition of a ‘community firehouse,’’’ Dyl said, referring to the close relationship that has developed over the years between neighbors and fire personnel there.
Firefighter Nelson DaSilva, who has spent the past 16 years at Station 1, echoed that theme, saying, “It was great seeing all the faces of the regulars again.”
Among those regulars, DaSilva said, was Donna McClure, who runs the Happy Time Day Care Center at 18 Davis Ave. “She brings kids to tour the firehouse and she brings cupcakes and brownies that she bakes,” he said. “And she even re-painted our front door. That’s how she’s giving back to us.”
For fellow Firefighter Jason McCabe, who came to Station 1 nine years ago, it felt good being back home.
Asked about prior conditions, McCabe said he had previously lived through infantry service with the Marine Corps in Somalia, “so I guess I was used to it. The building is so old. The windows weren’t working. The paint was chipped. It definitely needed to be fixed.”
“It’s been a long time coming,” DaSilva agreed. “I’m just glad to be back.”
Third Ward Councilwoman Eileen Eckel, who chairs the Fire Committee, recalled the “outpouring of concern” by the area’s close-knit neighborhood that the facility might not reopen.
That notion never crossed the minds of the council members, Eckel said. “We need to have our firehouse here. It’s a vital part of the community.”