Fire union, volunteers disagree on condition of Pasadena station

Move career firefighters out, official insists

Building had 2 citations in '01

Owners of Lake Shore say problems not severe

April 01, 2003|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

There's no dispute that, at nearly 60 years old, the volunteer-owned Lake Shore Fire Station in Pasadena is probably on its last legs.

But the county professional firefighters' union and the volunteer company that owns the one-story brick building are butting heads over how dangerously worn the building has become.

Keith W. Wright, president of the union, called the building uninhabitable and noted four problems - ranging from an infestation of birds above the ceiling to the possibility of a partial building collapse - that he believes should prompt the county to immediately pull its career firefighters from the station.

"The violations, which have been pointed out in inspections of the building, have been ignored," Wright said. "At this point, the only option is to have career firefighters removed from the unsafe working conditions."

President's concerns

Of immediate concern, Wright said, is what he claims is an unsafe heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system in need of new ducts and a structurally unsound wall of the station's apparatus bay.

Other problems, he said, include lead paint above the station's ceiling tiles and the birds. Wright said the union's four complaints have been cited by county building inspectors.

Career firefighters are stationed at Lake Shore around the clock, and about two dozen volunteer firefighters fill in from time to time.

The owners received two citations from the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation in September 2001 that mention unguarded pulleys in a basement air compressor and enclosed workspaces that do not prevent the entrance of rodents, insects and other vermin.

The inspection report spelled out that "delays in the correction to conditions reported by employees and the union have been attributed to a less-than-favorable working relationship between all concerned parties, government paperwork and budgetary constraints."

Company chief's view

John Jernigan, chief of the volunteer fire company that owns the station, said he recognizes that the 1944 building has problems, but he disputes the severity of them.

"We are continually working on the problems," Jernigan said. "I guess we're just not working fast enough."

Last year, the volunteer company spent $87,000 - money it raised on its own - to make improvements to the building, he said. The plumbing and electrical systems were overhauled, and a new well and water system was put in, he said.

"We do what we can until we run out of money," he said.

The county designated about $90,000 last year for improvements to the Lake Shore Station, but Jernigan said the volunteer company has not seen the money because lawyers are tinkering with the wording of the appropriation.

Once the money arrives, Jernigan said, "I'm going to make the repairs to the building to bring it up to where it needs to be."

Meanwhile, administrators at the county Fire Department will continue to run interference between the union and the volunteer company.

Division Chief John M. Scholz said the department is in a bit of a quagmire when it comes to ordering repairs on a privately owned fire station.

"Really, we can only make suggestions," Scholz said. "It's their building."

Men won't be moved

The dozen or so county firefighters who work there will not be moved because there is no evidence that they are in imminent danger, Scholz said.

"We have to be careful about moving firefighters around, because it affects our response times," Scholz said, noting a particular concern to the southern portions of Mountain Road.

About half of the county's 29 fire stations are owned by volunteer companies, but fire officials cannot recall another major dispute over building conditions.

"Volunteers usually want their buildings to be safe and healthy places to work," Wright said. "I don't understand why this one company isn't interested in keeping its building in good working condition."

Jernigan said it is Wright - not the career firefighters assigned to the station - who seems to have the biggest problem with building conditions.

"They may have some minor beefs with the building, but they see the progress that has been made in the last year," Jernigan said. "They know we're not stalling or dragging our feet."

The problem may become moot if the county approves the Fire Department's 2004 budget request for a new station, which could cost about $3 million.

Jernigan agreed that, at best, the old building will need to be torn down and replaced with a more modern station in five to seven years.

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