Roof on Davis Ave. Firehouse on verge of collapsing


If you’ve been down on Davis Ave. lately, you’ve likely noticed a distinct lack of KFD activity at the firehouse between Hoyt St. and Devon Terrace — as well as barricades blocking the sidewalk.

This is because the roof of the 115-year-old building is “slowly collapsing.”

Kearny Fire Chief Steve Dyl said a structural problem at Station 1 was discovered May 26. On May 27, the 16 firefighters assigned there were relocated to KFD headquarters on Midland Ave., as was their fire engine.

The 3,000-square-foot Davis Ave. building, which Dyl said has been declared unsafe by Kearny Construction Code Enforcement, now stands empty, awaiting an engineer’s report. And a repair-cost estimate.

Dyl said that on May 26, workers from Bower & Co. roofing were replacing the gutters on the firehouse — which has been in use since January 1901 — when they observed that a portion of the wooden plate just below the roofline was bulging out on the Devon Terrace side. Apparently the 1901 construction did not include “collar ties,” the lack of which has resulted in the roof joists pushing the plates out of alignment.

“It’s not something you’d look for in a regular inspection,” Dyl noted. But once the flaw was discovered, the KFD immediately alerted the Department of Public Works, which led to the “unsafe structure” notice being issued by Code Enforcement.

“We go there daily to inspect it,” Dyl said, “but until the engineer does his evaluation, they don’t want us staying there.” That means the entire building, including the southern section, which was added in 1928.

The town reportedly has hired Allan Klein & Associates, consulting engineers, of Mountainside to evaluate the problem — and potential solutions. “His report is pending,” Dyl said, noting that there is “no estimate on the cost yet and no time frame yet.”  The chief said he does expect a report this week.

Dyl also explained that the engineer had found that the chimney was leaning, “so we blocked off that section of the sidewalk.”

While Station 1 is closed, its crews will respond to their calls from Midland Ave., along with the firefighters from Station 2 on Kearny Ave. near Hoyt St.

This is not the first time the old firehouse has had structural problems. In 2010, the exterior had to be repointed when bricks began falling off. Repairing these brick-and-mortar antiques is “a funding issue,” Dyl said. Prior to his becoming chief, the KFD tried to get the state to declare Station 1 a historic building, “but for whatever reason, it didn’t qualify,” he noted. “We also applied for a firehouse-repairs federal grant, and we didn’t qualify for that.”

“We’re trying little by little,” the chief continued. “This year, we were doing pointing and we were going to replace the gutters, and that’s when they [the Bower roofers] saw the bulging.”

A sidelight: There’s no date on the old photo of Station 1 that accompanies this story, so we don’t know if those are “official” KFD horses.  According to a history of the department, written in 1967 to celebrate its centennial, when the KFD bought its first horse-drawn wagons, it possibly neglected to also buy horses. Or, at least, enough horses.

The story told by “old-timers” was that all of the department’s “first horse-drawn apparatus had to depend on being hitched up to the first arriving team of horses. Preferably the teams used by the town garbage wagons.”

“But when the fire bells were sounded, the first team arriving at the firehouse got the job of taking the apparatus to the fire. Sometimes the teams were owned by the milk companies.”

If the milk wagon horses were recruited, the company was compensated. But we surmise that didn’t help the poor milkman who had to deal with the ire of customers awaiting deliveries.

Learn more about the writer ...