EAST PROVIDENCE – Fire Chief Joe Klucznik indicated Thursday afternoon that he and his firefighters are “victims of our own success.”
Here's why: Last February, he received word from Sen. Jack Reed's office that the East Providence Fire Department would be the recipient of a $5.3 million federal grant, one stemming from President Barack Obama's American Recovery & Reinvestment Act and deals with fire station construction.
Late last summer, Klucznik discovered the grant had been boosted to $6.4 million. Those monies, he said, will be used to upgrade, renovate and modernize Station 1 (built in 1931 and located at 913 Broadway, near the Route 195 West overpass) and Station 4 (the Kent Heights firehouse at 66 Wampanoag Trail, constructed in 1954).
The chief hopes construction will begin at those two sites sometime this summer, or perhaps early fall. Just a few weeks ago, some of his firefighters – those who had conducted research for the project and written and/or edited the grant – had finalized a proposal to utilize the former Tristam Burges School at 1169 South Broadway as a temporary station for the Broadway and Kent Heights sites. (Station 4 would be the first to be renovated).
That group studied the feasibility of numerous locations, among them the former Tasca Ford building at 777 Taunton Ave.; ex-Midas Muffler building at 613 Taunton Ave.; Edmund Street Garage; and the former Sunoco gas station at 481 Warren Ave. None fit every need of the EPFD's two aforementioned stations, most importantly the housing of fire apparatus and other equipment.
“(Burges School) is considered the most favorable site for the relocations of both Stations 1 and 4 in order to complete the respective projects in the most timely and cost-effective manner possible,” the proposal read. “Bordered by South Broadway and Fort, Public and Mason streets, the lot is 40,814 square feet in size.
“The proposed site is still within the first-due area of Station 1 apparatus, albeit on the south side of the response area. Although it is west of Station 4's normal response area, Martin Street and Veterans Memorial Parkway serve as viable access points to areas of Station 4's first-due district.
“Virtually no changes to the department's computer-aided dispatch system (at the police station on Waterman Avenue) are necessary in order to ensure the proper dispatching of any fire apparatus to emergency incidents within the city.”
The school also allows for the erection of a temporary shelter to house the fire trucks, etc. from both stations while the buildings are being completed, and the lot will provide ample parking for personal vehicles, has fencing around three of its sides and is illuminated by surrounding street lights.
In addition, a modular building to house firefighters may be set up, and it allows for connections to water and sewer service for a period not to exceed two years. The proposal indicates telephone lines may need to be installed in the event cell phones don't provide adequate coverage for the department's everyday functions.
Klucznik noted he and other officials are slated to meet with city Purchasing Agent Paul Airozo over the next few weeks to make sure the bids for architectural, engineering and construction companies are done legally and legitimately.
“We'd like to get this rolling this summer, but we have to meet local, state and federal regulations,” he stated. “Right now, it's very difficult because we're down 17 firefighters and one administrative assistant (due to downsizing). All of our firefighters have been assisting in conducting research and writing specialized components to the grant, or even attending meetings with city officials.
“The firefighters themselves are doing, or have done, this preliminary work. They're the same people who work on the fire trucks and engines, who are on the HAZMAT team, on the technical rescue team, on the state's foam task force. They're all being squeezed.
“Forget about all the fire prevention presentations they've been doing; I've asked so many people to wear so many different hats, and – unfortunately – we only have so many hours in the day. We are victims of our success, and much more work has been placed on us due to this (approximate) $1.2 million increase.”
This ARRA grant will make both the main and Kent Heights firehouses complete two-story structures; renovate electrical, heating and plumbing systems; pay for sprinkling systems in Stations 1, 2 (in Riverside at 329 Bullocks Point Ave.) and 4; create more space for administrative staff; increase the size of the apparatus room; and modernize the kitchen area.
“It's not like the $5.3 million (grant) was set in concrete; it's a very complicated process,” Klucznik offered. “We're talking about two stations. We had to meet environmental and historical preservation standards, zoning regulations, etc.
“When the underground diesel and gas tanks were put in front of this building in 1931, they all met code,” he continued. “Now, with (Department of Environmental Management) requirements and those from state and federal agencies, we must meet modern codes, and neither station does that. That's why the grant was bumped up to $6.4 million.
“Naturally, we're elated … It means we're going to be working out of modern facilities.”
Construction hasn't taken place yet, though Klucznik's team has produced preliminary drawings of what both stations will look like following the work. Battalion Chief Glenn Quick has headed the grants committee, while colleague Frank Wyrostek has led the buildings and grounds contingent.
“We still have to get both sides to mesh, have them be on the same page, so there's a lot going on behind the scenes,” he mentioned.
Another grant, worth approximately $900,000, will allow Klucznik to accomplish three things: Create a 800-megahertz statewide interoperability radio system for the entire department, including the police/fire dispatch center; a station alert system (communicating with each other on emergency and non-emergency situations); and the new sprinkler systems in Stations 1, 2 and 4.
A community development block grant of about $35,000 will go to an electrical upgrade of Station 1, while another of $29,500 will provide for an emergency generator to be located outside that same Broadway firehouse.
Then there's a $239,000 Fire Prevention and Safety grant, gleaned in 2008. Just recently, those monies helped with the implementation of a Comprehensive Fire Prevention Education Program, and the purchasing of related teaching materials (such as DVDs, brochures, etc.).
The cash also went to instructing six firefighters about teaching fire prevention and safety programs; a fire safety trailer (call it a mobile classroom for the public); and even a fire safety robot.
“They're all used for fire safety demonstrations at schools and community organizations; we even went to Heritage Days last summer,” Klucznik said. “Anyone who wants us to do a presentation, we're there. We have fire extinguisher props, and the little fire truck robot named 'Freddy the Fire Truck,' which of course the kids love.
“The money also bought a lot of little things, such as a gas generator to power the trailer; a compressor; a TV so we can show fire prevention messages outside the trailer while an educational presentation is taking place inside,” he added. “It's been great because we've received so many outstanding comments from people, not just from students and teachers but also those at elderly high-rises and nursing homes.
“Anything we can do to get the word out about fire safety, we'll do it.”
Likewise, as part of that $900,000 grant, the sprinkler system at Station 2 in Riverside was completed in December. And there's more: The EPFD recently applied for a $3.56 million Assistance to Firefighters grant, which would help the city hire 20 new firefighters (though negotiations continue with the city about the feasibility).
“We still need the city to decide to bring in 20 new people,” Klucznik explained. “We also applied for a 'Rapid Intervention Team Training' grant, worth about $100,000. That would go to training firefighters how to go in and rescue any lost or trapped people inside (a burning home). We're pretty confident we're going to attain at least a portion of that grant; the amount we put in for was $431,000.
“I'm cautiously optimistic about all of these things to occur relatively soon, but we're still two or three years away from the completion of the two stations. We also don't have a temporary location for administrative staff, so we're working on that, too.”