Firefighters still 'homeless' over fire station asbestos

Firefighters say their response times have suffered due to less than ideal current accommodations

GARY, Ind. — For more than two years, firefighters have been without a permanent fire station.

IndyStar reported that firefighters were forced to leave its firehouse in August 2012 in when a contractor doing upgrades on the interior of the building discovered asbestos. 

The firefighters were moved, where the Gary Fire Department rented space for $3,000 a month at the fire station, according to the report. Less than a year later, they moved to another location.

Firefighters describe themselves as "homeless," which is perhaps fitting because they share a building with a homeless shelter. The facility is also used for hall rentals.

Shortly after moving into the new location, firefighters nearly missed a call because of the booming DJ music coming from the hall below them, according to the report. The music was so loud on one occasion a former captain slept in their fire truck.

Accessing the fire truck when responding to a call entails walking down stairs and out the front door of the multipurpose center and hustling across the parking lot that is sometimes filled with puddles of water or snow, accoridng to the report.

“The response time is much slower here,” firefighter Tom Bober said.

Station 5 firefighters call their current accommodations less than ideal, according to the report. Unlike at the old Station 5 firehouse, there is no laundry facility and they can’t wash their turnout gear after a fire.

"At least Merrillville was a firehouse," firefighter Bober said. "We had to make compromises, but it was still a firehouse."

Firefighter James Powell said at the end of the day, despite all the neglect, they still do their job.

"We’re not trying to put the administration on the spot or the chief on the spot," he said. "We just want what’s right for us. We need to be in a fire station."

Gary Fire Chief Teresa Everett said Station 5 closed because it was in need of extensive repairs.

“We have not yet determined if a new station will open at that location,” she said. “We will operate out of the multipurpose center until such time as we are able to relocate. There are plans to open a new station; the location has not been finalized.”

She said the fire department doesn’t own the Multipurpose Center, so any potential improvements to the structure are limited, according to the report.

“We recognize the facility has some limitations, but it provides an opportunity to for the city to continue to provide emergency response services to our residents,” she said.

In September, Gary firefighters joined city police at City Hall to protest a lack of pay increases and equipment, according to the report. Some firefighters are now selling T-shirts to raise money for that equipment. Bober said Gary firefighters aren’t asking for much.

“Just make us feel like firemen,” he said. “Give us the pride we deserve.”

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