Condition of Echo Hose firehouse raises concerns

City awaits third safety evaluation

Shelton’s Public Health and Safety Commission met earlier this month to get an update on the city’s effort to improve the condition of the Echo Hose Volunteer Fire Department building located on Coram Avenue.

The commission, composed of Aldermen Noreen McGorty, Jim Capra, and Jack Finn, met with the city’s director of public safety and emergency management services and one of its volunteer fire captains on Feb. 1 to discuss some repairs that have yet to be completed at the Echo Hose facility.

Fourth Ward Alderman Capra said his concerns stem from a visit he paid to the fire station in downtown Shelton last month, when an anonymous member of the company invited him to see the condition of the facility.

Capra said that upon his arrival he was shown the cracked floor within the facility’s bay where the department stores its emergency vehicles. He was also made aware of cracks in the ceiling of the building’s basement located directly below the vehicles.

He added that he perceived the damages to the floor and ceiling as not only extremely dangerous but also a form of disrespect to the members of the fire company.

As a precaution and after Capra’s visit to the firehouse, the city’s director of public safety and emergency management services, Mike Maglione, said, two of the fire company’s four emergency vehicles, including its ladder truck, were relocated from the company’s bay to the Pine Rock Co. 4 and Fire Department maintenance facility located on Riverdale Avenue.

The maintenance facility is located approximately a half mile from the Echo Hose fire station. The vehicles will remain in these temporary locations until a third study determines that the Echo Hose facility on Coram Avenue is safe, according to Shelton fire Chief Francis Jones.

Mayor Mark Lauretti said the concerns about the floor have been voiced in the past, but after two studies were conducted by both an engineering company and the city’s building maintenance director, it was determined by Szeker Engineering that no major threats were posed to the members of the Echo Hose Fire Department.

Issues resurfaced

The cracks in the department’s floor and ceiling constitute one of several existing issues that Capra shared during the Feb. 1 meeting.

Capra said another concern was that the company’s broken exhaust fan, which is designed to keep the volunteers from breathing diesel fumes, hadn’t been replaced in years.

He also claimed that when he walked upstairs to the Echo Hose hall, he smelled gas.

Alderman Finn said these issues have existed for nearly 10 years and were reported to the city prior to Capra’s inquiry.

Capra also said the fire department’s desk chairs were in bad shape. He offered the captain of the Echo Hose Fire Department, Joe Clark, his own chair that he uses at aldermen meetings in exchange for one of the old chairs currently in the station to show his appreciation for the department.

“That should make a statement,” said Capra. “But seriously, you can take my chair and I will sit on one of the office chairs.”

Clark said the list of repairs yet to be fixed also includes several drains inside the Echo Hose facility that have been clogged for several years. Clark said these issues have already been reported to the city.

Lauretti has directed the head of building maintenance, Chris Potucek, to bring in Szeker Engineering to investigate the condition of the apparatus floor at the Echo Hose fire station. This is the same company that did the last two investigations, in 2005 and 2008, according to Maglione. He said the past two studies that were conducted didn’t reveal any threat to the members of the fire company, but that preventative action was recommended.

It was recommended that the cracks in the floor/ceiling be sealed, but no action was taken after either study, said Maglione.

Capra said he assumed the condition of the floor could only have worsened after nine years since the last study, considering its history. He also said he’s not confident, but hopes the repairs will be made in the near future.

Aldermen upset over lack of communication

Capra said he personally invited Shelton fire Chief Francis Jones, the city’s building official, Joe Ballero, and the mayor’s administrative assistant, Jack Bashar, but received no response from any of them.

Capra said their choice not to respond to his invitation to the meeting to discuss the issues with the Echo Hose fire station shows “blatant disrespect to the Board of Aldermen and the city of Shelton.”

“This is a big deal what we’re here to discuss tonight, and for these people not to show up is disgusting and disrespectful, not only to the city of Shelton but to the Echo Hose Fire Department,” said Capra. “Shame on them.”

On Monday, Feb. 13, Jones said he was unable to attend the meeting because of a “personal matter” but that he takes matters at all four local fire companies very seriously.

“I try to make every meeting I can, but sometimes we just can’t make it. There was no ill intentions,” said Jones.

The Shelton Herald reached out to Bashar, Ballaro, and Potucek but hadn’t gotten a response back as of Tuesday, Feb. 14.

A matter of safety and respect

Capra said the purpose of asking for an update on the repairs to the firehouse was to see how the Public Health and Safety Commission could help move the process along, because currently he doesn’t feel the volunteers are treated with respect.

“When people tell me that we’re treating our fire department with respect and dignity,” said Capra pointing at a photo of chairs the firefighters have in their fire station, “I say this is total disrespect. You’re volunteer firefighters and you don’t even have chairs, no proper chairs to sit in. I guess that’s the littlest thing on my list, but it’s just a sign that things are not going well.”

What’s the holdup?

Maglione said Potucek called Szeker Engineering on Feb. 1 but the engineer was out of his office so no one has been able to conduct the evaluation of the company’s bay.

When Capra asked why he waited until the day of the meeting to contact the engineer, Maglione said the delay in calling the engineer was a result of Potucek having to get the weights of the emergency vehicles that were parked in the bays where the cracks in the floor are located.

Finn said although the delay technically is Potucek’s responsibility, he is conscious of his work conditions.

“Chris is overworked and understaffed,” said Finn. “He’s got part-time employees and he’s doing the best he can with what he has.”

Taking a toll on volunteers

When asked by Alderman McGorty, Clark said the removal of the two emergency vehicles has also affected the morale of its volunteers.

“We had that fire on Hull Street and they had to take the Expedition to bring additional people over there,” said Clark. “It’s their truck and they understand why it’s not there. It’s their baby per se, and it just bothers some of them that we have two fire trucks in there instead of four or five.”

Maglione clarified that in the instance of the Hull Street fire that Clark referenced, having to drive one half of a mile to pick up the ladder truck was merely “shuffling of bodies,” and although an inconvenience, it didn’t affect the company’s ability to respond to the fire.

Finn said he has seen the needs of the fire companies in Shelton pushed off for years and he understands the effect on volunteers’ morale. He also said he would like a portion of the city’s $12 million dollar surplus to be used to address all of the fire company’s needed repairs.

“We can’t keep putting it off year after year after year. … We need to be proactive, not retroactive,” said Finn.

Capra said he would like the Public Health and Safety Commission to meet with presidents, captains, fire marshals, and the chief to take tours of all four departments.

“They’re volunteers who are giving their lives to this,” said Capra. “And this is what they’re getting? Somewhere along the way we missed something, and we have to come back and realize that this is a problem and then get it fixed.”

What’s next?

The hope is to have an update and the study done by the commission’s meeting in March, according to Capra.
The commission asked that building director Joe Ballaro write a letter stating whether or not the Echo Hose fire department is safe enough for the volunteer firefighters to use. Ballaro’s letter will ultimately determine the next steps in the safety procedure.