The Norwalk Fire Station is fast approaching its 100th birthday. And if the Norwalk fire chief has anything to say about it, it will not house the fire department much past its centennial.
The need for a new fire station was the major topic of discussion when Chief Doug Coletta presented his wish list of permanent improvements to city council as Norwalk continues to work on a long-term capital improvement plan.
The projected price tag is steep $3.8 million and the proposal has more questions than answers at this stage. But one point Coletta was clear on: The old station is obsolete.
"The building has outlived its usefulness," he said, stressing that "The guys are making it work."
Built in 1912 to house a fire department that relied on horses, Coletta said the brick layers who put the station together never envisioned it lasting this long. Mayor Sue Lesch said the city has done some work just to keep the building together literally.
The size of the building has put the department behind the 8-ball when it comes to buying equipment. Coletta said the last truck the department purchased was selected purely based on size and measurements and the mirrors still had to be replaced just so it could fit through the doors. The shorter, slender model also was more expensive than a standard size truck.
"We're limited on the equipment we can buy," Coletta said.
The setup of the station makes it difficult for firefighters and the public. There is just one shower in the building and the "ancient" dorms are such that, should the city ever wish to hire a female firefighter, it could not accommodate her, Lesch said. There also is no general entrance to the station and the chief's office is located upstairs meaning the public has limited access to one of its major public officials.
Another disadvantage to the station is its location. While at one time having the building centrally located was a benefit, because of the way the city is growing it does not work as well any longer.
Coletta said, if the new station was built to last 50 or 75 years, it would be likely the city would have grown to the point that it needs to build a satellite station which is something the city must keep in mind when finding a location for the new station. Coletta added the current site is probably too small for a new building anyway.
"We need to build a facility that meets the needs of today and does some crystal ball gazing," Lesch said.
Council President Steve Euton said the new fire station should be among the top priorities of the capital improvement plan, especially because with planning and studies it will be at least three to five years before building a new station is a legitimate option.
"So this is not something we want to slide to the back burner," he said. "This is one of the more important items from a priority standpoint."