Allentown firefighters sounding alarm on Central Station’s deteriorating state

Written by on August 29, 2022

Allentown firefighters sounding alarm on Central Station’s deteriorating state

By Hayden Mitman
August 29, 2022

ALLENTOWN, Pa. – Allentown’s Central Fire Station serves more than 125,000 city residents.

But firefighters — and Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk — argue that the nearly century-old building is falling apart and can’t accommodate growth.

“It’s way outside of its useful life,” Tuerk told City Council at a meeting this month. “I’ve spoken with a number of council members about the need to consider demolition and reconstruction of this, which is the most important of our fire stations and serves the most of our city residents.”

Listen to the story.

The building on Chew Street originally was built as a car dealership in the 1920s and converted into a firehouse in 1956.

“It was never built to be a firehouse to begin with,” Deputy Fire Chief Christian WIlliams said during a recent visit. “This was a car dealership when cars were very different in the 1920s. So I think we got a lot of bang for our buck.”

The changes needed to make a car dealership into a fire house are immediately obvious.

A restroom doubles as a hallway and desks on the second floor sit on raised platforms to accommodate the height of the firehouse garage doors.

But the biggest problem is that the structure is starting to deteriorate.

Williams pointed out that eroding bricks and masonry are held in place along the roof with tarp and bungee cords. Roofs leak and mold stains the ceiling in nearly every room in the building, he said.

There also are holes in the walls. And in places, concrete bubbles with an unknown growth.

Jeremy Warmkessel, president of Fire Fighters Union 302, said it’s likely not harmful for people to breathe.

But he wasn’t sure.

“The city has conducted air quality tests,” Warmkessel said. “The union has conducted multiple air quality tests. The tests say ‘Man, I don’t know if I’d really want to be in that environment.’ But it’s not something the city would move us out for.”

Building is packed

The building is densely packed with employees and equipment, too.

“There’s just not enough room for all the equipment the fire department has to purchase, and then for our guys, we live here. We live here 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Warmkessel said. “A new firehouse would give them ways of expanding.”

About 60 people work in the station and move in and out on any given day, Williams said.

The city’s EMS administration is headquartered there, as well.

Mehmet Barzev, who is the chief of operations of the city’s EMS services, said that, because the building never was designed to house emergency services, they are faced with nagging issues every day.

“Everything’s an extra step of work,” he said. “We have nowhere to store supplies, so our supplies have to be carried upstairs.

“Now, we buy in bulk, so we buy pallets of stuff at a time and it comes in, we have to carry it upstairs and have to carry it downstairs over the course of a few weeks or a couple of months. So that part is a bit of an inconvenience, especially if we are busy that day.”

Serving the future

The city has not yet done a cost analysis for what it might take to demolish the structure and build a new station for the fire department.

But Deputy Fire Chief Williams said that in order to serve the community — without the nagging issues that being housed in a nearly century-old structure entails — it’s time for the city to invest in a new station.

“It’s just time to move on,” he said. “We have to look long term and make sure we are providing the right building for our firefighters to work out of – and our paramedics.

“But also, that we are providing the right building that’s going to serve the public the way it should.”


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