ORLEANS — A new police station. A new DPW headquarters. A new tech school. And, coming down the road, a proposed rebuild of Nauset Regional High School and a library building project.
You might say that some voters were edifice wrecks when they went to the polls in May and saw a $50,000 item for a “study to replace/renovate” the fire station near the bottom of the ballot. Although the study had sailed through town meeting 159-9, it was rejected at the polls 673-711.
Fire Chief Anthony Pike and Facilities Manager Ron Collins tried to express their urgency about conditions at the Eldredge Park Way station, built in 1987, at the Sept. 4 selectmen's meeting. “The fire station is not code compliant in two significant areas, indoor air quality and barrier free access for the public and staff,” Collins wrote in his report.
Not enough outside air is getting into the station, he wrote, less than half that cycling into the new police station. With the inside air pressure “negative to the outdoors,” vehicle exhaust fumes may be “invited” into the rest of the building. Air handlers in the unconditioned attic are hampered by extreme hot and cold temperatures. Office space and sleeping quarters are inadequate, according to Collins, and some rooms have “limited fresh air and no windows to the outside.”
A tour conducted by Pike and Deputy Chief Geoff Deering last Friday confirmed the problems noted by Collins. “This is a key point,” the chief said. “If we don't have positive (air) pressure, we're eating carcinogens.”
The department “has been out of space for 10 years,” Pike said as he stood between a stretcher and other first aid materials in what is transitioning into the new Emergency Medical Services supervisor's office. “First aid has gotta move,” he said, “and there's zero space available in the building.”
That's of concern for the hundreds of walk-ins who come to the station to get blood pressure checks or consult on something more serious (someone having a heart attack once drove in rather than calling for an ambulance, not a recommended move). Space will be found, somehow.
The station, questionable air and all, is home for shifts of five firefighters overnight. They make their meals in an antiquated kitchen that has to feed up to 30 or 40 people during a coastal storm. Pike pointed out “the ovens I bought at the bargain box at Mid-Cape Home Center” and he speaks of rolling gas grill boilers into an apparatus bay for more cooking space.
“People say, 'The outside looks fine,'” he said. “We don't use the outside. We use the inside.” What was once the fire inspector's office, used to review building plans, has been turned into a bunking area.
Workout equipment, purchased by the union, “is essential for the firefighters' health and safety,” Pike said as he pointed to stationary bikes and other equipment squeezed into a corner of the lower apparatus bay cheek by jowl with a vehicle. “It prevents back injuries and is instrumental in reducing stress. Thirty years ago, we had a workout area. We had to capture it for sleeping. (Now) you're working out in an area that has carcinogens.”
In another corner of the lower bay, there's a washing machine with an extractor unit that pulls out contaminants. The whole array looks like something in a single-A farm team's locker room.
Two storage containers out back are peeling and leaking from the top and bottom, the chief said. He's worried about damage to the all-terrain vehicle stored in one, and Deering points out that the department's generator needs monthly visits from exterminators to stop mice building nests inside the casing.
“We're firefighters,” Pike said. “You give us a difficult environment, and we're going to make it work. Firefighters are resourceful, but that's almost a hindrance” in making the case for better quarters.
People who have attended the department's Citizen's Fire Academy and seen the situation up close “are our biggest proponents,” Pike said. (Another five-week session begins Sept. 25; sign up by Sept. 18 by email to Deering at email@example.com or call 508-255-0050.)
One of those attendees was finance committee chair Lynn Bruneau. She wrote in an email that the conditions described by Collins “present health hazards to the men and women who work and 'live' in that building. Why are we tolerating this?”
After citing some of the deficiencies noted above, Bruneau wrote, “Then of course there's the morale issue—part of which has to do with the fact that the Orleans 'crew' is, on average, underpaid, relative to their peers Cape-wide—but then there's the 'home pride' aspect. Would you rather work in a brand new facility like Brewster? Or an ages old, falling-apart and potentially health-hazardous one like Orleans?”
At the selectmen's meeting last week, board member Kevin Galligan suggested tapping some of the town's Green Communities money from the state to make air quality improvements. Collins indicated that the matter was too complicated for a partial fix.
Referring to the vote at the polls, Selectman Chairman Mark Mathison said, “The town told you no” on the $100,00 replacement/renovation study. “What you've shown us begs that we move forward, but we can't. What Kevin is saying is can you give us a number to look at air quality issues, just on that component, so we can look at realistic alternatives... We can go to town meeting again and say we've done this (and) we need to make air quality livable and it will cost x number of dollars. Is it foolish to spend that money on that building and tear it down a few years from now? These are the kinds of things people need to know to make intelligent decisions next year.”
Town Administrator John Kelly said the town “has an obligation to repair what's there” and suggested that Collins come back with a smaller, focused proposal. “The board can take first steps to address the safety of employees and the public,” he said, “then work longer term on what the board thinks will sell” at town meeting.
Bruneau, who attended the meeting, wrote in her email that, “We need a more engaged group of civic leaders to pound tables with their shoes and make this happen!”