While the fire trucks got to move into their newly renovated home last November, the West Caldwell fire department is still waiting for the final list of construction projects to be finished before relocating completely into the updated firehouse.
Recently members of the fire department have been seen visiting their new home as construction workers apply the finishing touches on the building, located at 6 Fairfield Ave.
Hopefully the project, which began over a year ago, should be completed in a few weeks, according to Fire Chief James "Jim" Alvine. "It's been tough operating over a year without a firehouse," Alvine stated.
While the project officially began when the West Caldwell Council unanimously approved a $2.5 Million bond ordinance In February 2010 from it capital budget allocation for the firehouse renovation, the project has been several years in the making.
Alvine remembers about 7 years ago giving Councilman Dominick Aiello a tour of the firehouse after a benefit dinner. Alvine and current Deputy Chief Mike Luker wanted to illustrate the dangerous conditions created when firemen changed into their protective gear inches away from fire trucks rushing out to a fire.
"It was very dangerous. We had one fireman crushed by a truck," Alvine said. While the fireman survived, Alvine, Luker and former Fire Chief Charles Holden recognized the need to create a separate space for firemen to change away from departing trucks and their exhaust hoses.
Furthermore, when the firehouse was built in 1968 the department had three fire trucks, but now owns six. "Over the years equipment and trucks have gotten bigger. Fire fighting has become more sophisticated, and more equipment is carried on the trucks," stated Councilman Richard Otterbein, the Committee Chairperson for Public Safety and a volunteer fireman.
With the bigger trucks more space was needed to house them. "We waited a long time, as long as can be. We just did not want to put a band-aid on the firehouse but have it operational for the next 50 years," Otterbein stated. "It was built for the future," Alvine added.
As reported previously in The Patch, to accommodate the larger fire trucks and create a separate area for firefighters to put on their protective gear, known as a donning room, the original firehouse was expanded. The expanded space was created primarily in the front of the building and to the left, eliminating an auxiliary driveway that lead onto Fairfield Avenue.
In addition to this first floor expansion of the bay area, a second floor was added, which will house West Caldwell's Office of Emergency Management and a police desk to be used in emergencies as well as storage areas.
Other improvements made to the firehouse include renovations to the restrooms, the creation of a separate firefighters lounge room and a meeting room, and an expanded office for the fire chief. Improvements to the gym, where firefighters use fitness equipment to maintain strength and stamina needed to fight fires, was also included in the renovations.
Alvine notes all gym equipment, plus some furniture, has been paid for by the Fireman's Association, of which all volunteer fireman are members. The current fire department numbers about 60 members.
While firefighters now use the donning room to put on their protective gear, the remainder of the firehouse is virtually empty. Alvine said one fireman donated the use of a family building to store items such as computers, furniture, gym equipment and storage files.
Now Alivine and other officers are planning a day to move everything back. The fire department expects to be fully operational at the firehouse in time to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the volunteer organization on September 22.
To learn more about the West Caldwell Fire Department, visit them on facebook or on Twitter @WestCaldwellFD.