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Cramped quarters spur push for new firehouse PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 11 June 2014 18:40

Port commission favors city-county facility that would provide second station

    The Port Washington Police and Fire Commission on Monday agreed to look into the idea of building a second fire station on the city’s west side in partnership with Ozaukee County, which needs space to store equipment for its
Emergency Management Department.

    “I think it would behoove us to talk to the county,” Fire Chief Mark Mitchell said.

    “I love the whole shared-building concept. We’re trying to push the idea of collaboration, and this would seem to be an ideal project.”

    Commission Chairman Rick Nelson said he has broached the idea of a shared facility with County Administrator Tom Meaux, who he said is enthusiastic about studying it.

    An ideal spot to build a new facility might be the county-owned ramp land at the corner of highways 33 and LL, immediately east of Eernisse Funeral Home, Mitchell said. There’s about 15 acres of land available there that would offer easy access to the south and west portions of the city, which are growing, as well as the town.

    The location would also reduce the traffic in the city around the fire station, commission member Bill Malchow said.

    It could also prevent any delays if a train is going through the city when a fire truck or ambulance is heading to an emergency, since the city would have facilities on both sides of the tracks, officials said.

    Mitchell, who made the case for a second fire station last fall, told the commission he’s been stymied in his efforts to pursue the new building.

    He broached the topic with the License and Finance Committee last fall, Mitchell said, and they told him to work with other staff members to come up with a plan for the facility.

    That’s been difficult, he said.

    “I’m kind of chasing my tail,” Mitchell said.

    The case for a new fire station is easy to make, he said.

    “We’re out of room. We’ve come to the end of the line in terms of what we can do over there,” Mitchell said. “The station’s dated. It’s just not efficient.

    “It was built in the ’60s, almost like a clubhouse.”

    It’s so cramped, Malchow said, that firefighters have to move apparatus out of the station just to have the floor space needed to work of the equipment.

    The fire station at 104 W. Washington St. was built in 1968 and it’s showing its age, he said.

    Despite an addition built in 1995, the building is cramped. Fire trucks have grown wider and longer since it was built, making it difficult to fit all the equipment inside.

    The station houses 17 vehicles, many of them lined up so close together that you can’t open the door of one without hitting the vehicle parked next to it, Mitchell said.

    “It’s the proverbial 10 pounds packed into a five-pound bag,” he said.

    Sixteen of the 60 members of the department are women, but there are no bathroom or shower facilities for them, Mitchell said.

    There’s also a need for living facilities —  at least a place where paramedics can sleep while on call, he said. A number of the city’s paramedics are from out of town and they often sleep while on call.

    The department has rigged up a sleeping quarter for them, Mitchell said, but it isn’t a very private space.

    Storage is always in demand, he added, noting records are being kept in such places as the furnace room.

    There’s not a main entrance, so people aren’t sure how to get into the building, and the administrative offices and training facilities are inadequate, Mitchell said.

    It’s also not very energy efficient, he noted.

    Mitchell said he would like to see a new building constructed that would not only remedy these inadequacies, but also provide a community room for public use.

    The new facility should become the city’s primary fire station, he said, because it would have the offices, training facility and other features that are the backbone of the department.

    “If you’re going to build a second station, you might as well go all in,” he said. “It just wouldn’t be conducive to renovate this (existing station) to house all these functions. We need a second facility, so you might as well make it
the headquarters, a 21st century building.”

    The existing fire house should then be renovated to become a substation, he recommended.

    “We are not abandoning the current station by any means,” Mitchell said.

    He said he does not know how much a new station would cost, nor what the price tag would be to renovate the existing fire house.

    “It all depends on the area you’re building and what you include,” Mitchell said.

    He’s been looking at what features are included in new fire houses and how they are laid out, he added, but he’s not an expert on how to design a new station.

    Nelson suggested that the commission invite aldermen for a tour of the fire station before their July meeting, in preparation for a request to hire a consultant to study the city’s needs and develop a concept plan for a new fire

    An architect who specializes in fire stations should be hired by the city, not a general architect, Nelson added.

    That request could come as early as August or September, he said.

    Nelson, who is also a County Board supervisor, and commission member Patty Ruth agreed to serve as liaisons to Ozaukee County to investigate the possibility of a joint facility and location.

    “I know the sheriff needs storage space too,” Nelson said.

    Commission members Marty Becker and Malchow were designated to a design subcommittee.

    “I think there’s a tremendous need for this,” Malchow said. “We need to put something together that’s functional and meets our long-term needs.”


Image information: THE NEAT LINE of trucks in the Port Washington Fire Station belies the crowded condition of the firehouse, Chief Mark Mitchell said.                               Photo by Sam Arendt

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