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Palmerton firemen oppose new station

Published February 15. 2012 05:01PM

Palmerton's decision to build a new fire station has ruffled the feathers of its fire department.

Last week, borough council, on a 6-0 vote, with one abstention, agreed to proceed with the construction of the fire station near the intersection of Third Street and Avenue B.

But, Joe Rogowitz, president of the Palmerton Fire Company, told the TIMES NEWS this morning members don't believe a new station is necessary, and would rather see the money used to fix up the current building.

"We sit on 3.2 acres. Why would you not spend the money on the fire station that's bought and paid for?" Rogowitz asked. "Our number one priority was always to stay in the West End Fire Station because our membership felt it was best located there."

Further, Rogowitz said "they still have not justified needing a new fire house. We're volunteers; it's not them getting up at 4 in the morning, 3 in the morning, 2 in the morning to answer the calls; we're not paid for this job."

As a result, Rogowitz said the fire department has circulated a petition of those opposed to the construction of a new fire station. Of the 36 firefighters who were approached with the petition, 28 signed it, he said.

"Our comment back to the borough was, if you don't want to do that, it's fine; it (the petition) says we may quit, we may find firefighting efforts somewhere else."

Rogowitz added "we're just looking down the road. Taxes are going to get raised, anyone knows that."

"We want the borough just to return the grant and leave everything the way it is," he said. "The borough approached us after they got the grant, and asked us what we felt was necessary. We told them our first option was to stay at the West End station, and put the money into that. We offered them the garage portion of the building to have as a fire station."

Rogowitz said firefighters plan to attend borough council's meeting at 7 p.m. Feb. 23.

"We are prepared to go to council and let all the councilmen know what's going on, and tell them that if you want to pursue this building, you can do that without our help," he said. "We're asking for the public to come out and support us."

Contacted this morning, borough manager Rodger Danielson told the TIMES NEWS that despite the opposition, construction is still expected to occur this year.

"The borough's going to move forward with construction at Third Street," Danielson said. "Certainly, the choice has not always been unanimous, but the borough still feels it's in the best interest of the town to have a strong centralized location to operate from."

Danielson said any rumors that the fire station in the West End will close have been unfounded.

"There's a strong assumption it will close up the fire station in the West End; that's a strong functioning part of the fire department, and we hope that remains," he said. "Right now, the decision and discussion from last council meeting was that they'll build the fire station over there and move the fire trucks down there; anything in the future remains to be seen."

Danielson said council's been aware of the fire department's concern with the eventual move.

"It's been very split; that's been known all along that there wasn't unanimous approval for it," he said. "We currently have a group of men that do work out of the station down here at Third Street that probably will want to continue to work out of there."

In the meantime, Danielson said the borough has the "opportunity to use this grant to build a more usable building, and council wants to take advantage of that."

As for the firefighters against the decision, Danielson said "whether or not, (they choose to quit) that becomes a personal choice for them."

"We're building a new station, and are going to move two trucks that are currently at Third Street 100 yards down the road," he said. "What evolves after that remains to be seen."

In the end, Danielson said council believes the move will be in the best interests of the community.

"Certainly the station being built and planned now will be a much larger scale than what's currently there," he said. "It will offer a lot of new features to take advantage of the funding that's available."

Council's decision to change locations comes one month after it reneged on the purchase of a pair of properties at 509-511 Lehigh Ave. After a brief executive session, council at that time agreed to rescind a prior resolution to obtain those properties.

That decision came after council, on a pair of 5-2 votes in November, adopted two separate resolutions for each of the properties adjacent to the borough's Fifth Street parking lot for the purpose of expanding their holdings for the new fire station.

The resolutions concerned the properties at 509-511 Lehigh Ave., which the borough planned to purchase, demolish, and eventually use to house its new fire station. Councilmen Richard Nothstein and Gursky were opposed.

That action came after council in September agreed on a 5-1 vote, with one abstention, to spend nearly $150,000 to purchase the home. At that time, Gursky was opposed, while Nothstein abstained.

Danielson said at that time the homes had been appraised at $70,500, and $75,500. The borough had previously determined that the fire station would be built in the borough lot at Fifth and Lehigh Avenue, he said. He said the borough would use money from its general fund to purchase the property, and that the fire station was expected to be completed by early next summer.

In May, the borough hired S.J. Elton Architect, of Bethlehem, to design the borough's new fire station.

In October 2010, then Speaker of the House Keith McCall presented borough officials and members of the West End Fire Co. No. 2 with a $906,000 check for the purchase of a new fire station.

The borough will utilize that grant, along with $35,000 from the borough's general fund, to cover the $940,000 cost to construct the fire station, Danielson said.

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