By Donald Wittkowski
Aficionados of firefighting lore may be saddened to hear that there will be no brass pole to slide down.
When the alarm sounds, firefighters at Ocean City’s new firehouse on 29th Street will instead scamper down the stairway as they rush to put on their gear and jump on the fire engines.
“Most places are getting away from it. There are potential injuries,” Ocean City Acting Fire Chief Jim Smith explained of the lack of a fire pole in the two-story building.
Although that piece of firefighting nostalgia wasn’t included in the project, the new $2.1 million firehouse opening this weekend does feature an exterior design that is definitely a throwback to old-fashioned times.
“It has an old-school look to it. The color combination is gorgeous,” said Barry Straga, president of Straga Bros. Inc. of Glassboro, the construction company that built the firehouse for the city.
The building is highlighted by a redbrick façade mixed with beige and teal architectural flourishes reminiscent of the 19th century. Its big, glass bay doors and decorative awnings also evoke a bygone era.
But make no mistake about it, when the building opens on Friday, just in time for the Memorial Day weekend rush of summer visitors to the Jersey Shore, it will be an ultra-modern firefighting facility serving as a new centerpiece of Ocean City’s public safety, Smith said.
“It is exactly where it is supposed to be,” he noted of its midtown location at the corner of 29th Street and West Avenue.
The new firehouse joins the city’s existing fire headquarters on Sixth Street in the north end of town and another fire station on 45th Street in the south end.
The facility will be manned 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It has living quarters for the firefighters on the second floor, including a sleeping area and a kitchen stocked with a stove, refrigerator and microwave oven.
There will be two fire engines and two ambulances on the first floor. The glass panes on the bay doors overlooking 29th Street will allow people to get a good glimpse of the fire engines and ambulances inside.
“They are very inviting,” Smith said of the bay doors. “They will let people know that we are here.”
The new firehouse offers a dramatic contrast to its grim, cinderblock predecessor that stood on the same spot for more than 60 years before it was finally demolished last fall to make room for its replacement.
The new building, though, pays tribute to the old firehouse by incorporating its 1954 cornerstone in the façade. Embedded just above it is a 2017 cornerstone.
Already antiquated, the old firehouse was battered by Hurricane Sandy’s flood waters in October 2012. The flooding ruined the living quarters for the firefighters who worked there, but the rest of the building remained in use for nearly four more years. It was swamped again in January 2016 by flooding from the powerful coastal storm Jonas.
The city’s engineer and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration condemned the old building in April 2016 after large cracks were discovered in the walls. However, the walls were strengthened to allow the old firehouse to continue operating through the busy summer tourism season in 2016 to avoid any interruptions to emergency service.
Construction of the new building unfolded over the fall, winter and summer months. During that time, firefighters assigned to the 29th Street facility were shifted to a temporary headquarters at the municipal airport.
The new firehouse was built on about 100 piles, giving it protection from future flooding. It has been designed to withstand the Jersey Shore’s notorious storms, including the 500-year flood.
Although the firehouse will be ready this weekend, the official grand opening ceremony will be announced later. Smith said members of the public will be invited because “it’s their building.”
Smith thanked Mayor Jay Gillian, City Council, Roger Rinck, the city’s manager of engineering and construction, and Brian Meyers, of Czar Engineering LLC, for their support and supervision of the project. He also thanked members of the community for their patience with the firehouse’s construction.