A firehouse that once had rat and bat infestations fighting the firefighters for living space is now getting cleaned up.
The Third Avenue Firehouse in Mont Pleasant was once in such bad shape that a chief proposed demolishing it and building a new station. But the cost was far too high, so the building remained — without any repairs.
Firefighters complained. Supervisors complained. Even neighbors complained. Nothing was done.
Now, money that was to be spent repairing a ramp at another firehouse has been redirected to fight the “varmints.”
The city hired a contractor to put in a new roof, replacing the asphalt shingles with a similar-looking but modern roof. Leaks had led to widespread rot, leaving holes under the soffits, through which bats crept into the building, Chief Michael Della Rocco said.
The second floor was so badly damaged that it was largely abandoned before repairs were made, he said. The department used to run training meetings upstairs and had workout gear up there. Now they’ll use it for interviews and office space, Della Rocco said.
Rats got into the building through holes in a concrete bulkhead in the kitchen, Assistant Chief David Orr said.
“That was easy access for all kinds of varmints,” he said. “You don’t want to see the cellar.”
The bulkhead has been replaced, and workers have measured the kitchen for new cabinets. A city carpenter has installed new windows that look like the originals but are actually made of vinyl. Next, workers will install new sheetrock after ripping out water-damaged plaster.
“They want to do a lot of the work internally,” Orr said, “so it’s when their work schedule allows.”
Firefighters hope the work is finished soon, but, Orr said, they’re glad to see it finally start after years of neglect.
In a city that enforces code violations against private owners, firefighters lived with a broken bay window covered with plywood for years. They endured the infestations and wet conditions to the point where city officials ruled the building a health and safety hazard this year.
Director of Operations William Winkler, who is a licensed engineer, inspected the building to determine whether it should be demolished, but he found that despite the roof leaks, it was structurally sound.
It was built in 1938 by the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression, Della Rocco said.
“When they built these buildings, they built them to last,” he said.
But they were built for just one gender — something fire officials hope to change. There’s just one functioning bathroom and shared bedrooms.
Orr hopes the city will fix at least one of the two broken bathrooms so it can be designated for women. He also wants the bunk area to be divided into small, one-person bedrooms to give women more privacy.
“We have two female firefighters now, and there’s no reason we won’t have more in the future,” he said.