Firefighters persist in Conn. 'forgotten firehouse'

By Ann DeMatteo
The New Haven Register

HAMDEN, Conn. — About 30 years ago, the older guys at the Circular Avenue firehouse told a novice not to get used to the run-down station because it was going to be replaced.

That novice is now retired, and a new generation of firefighters are still working in a building with crumbling ceiling tiles, leaks and mold, a station known for its frequent visits from squirrels and mice.

A couple of years ago, one of the squirrels chewed an electrical wire and met its demise. They wear T-shirts with a logo that memorializes the occasion.

"It's comical to see the squirrels running through, or to catch mice running around the kitchen," said Glenn Tricarico, a nine-year firefighter who has worked at Station 2 for the majority of his career.

Despite all the squalor, the guys who work at Station 2, the town's busiest firehouse with about 275 calls a month, love fighting fires and saving lives. They love that people stop in for directions, and that they get to serve as role models for neighborhood kids who like to stop by for a soda, get their bicycle tires filled with air or to just hang out and talk.

They love their jobs and the building is "something we learn to deal with," said Lt. Rob Madigosky, who has worked there for 14 years.

"What makes it is all of us," said Tricarico.

But, the firefighters feel like they are the forgotten station.

Said Fire Chief David Berardesca: "The public knows we're here when we show up, but they don't know the circumstances of the environment."

Firefighters went home disappointed last week when they thought there would be some forward movement in getting a new station. When the town acquired the former 11.8-acre Dadio Farm on Putnam Avenue in 2007, the plan was to build a new Station 2, fire headquarters and training center on a 3 1/2-acre lot there. The complex was estimated at $12 million.

But thinking that money could be saved, Mayor Craig B. Henrici decided to ask the Legislative Council to give him permission to seek proposals from private companies that would want to build a fire station for the town near Station 2, which the town would lease back.

The chairwoman of the Public Safety and Protection Committee, Councilwoman Kathleen Schomaker, D-5, said council members had questions. "I'm working on a date to bring this back before the council and clarify additional information we'll need in order to do that," she said.

Acting Finance Director Jennifer Charneski said that once proposals are received, officials would be able to compare what the total debt service would be on the estimate for the town to build the facility, versus the total lease payments under a design/build arrangement.

Lease payments could be significantly less than principal and interest payments, if the project were to be bonded, Charneski said.

The debt service of the $36.35 million Memorial Town Hall-police- fire station renovation project that will be under way at Whitney and Dixwell avenues, along with other projects that have been financed, is estimated to be about $17.24 million, or close to 10 percent of the 2009-10 budget.

According to the town charter, borrowing that causes the debt service of the town to exceed 10 percent of the budget shall be submitted to binding referendum.

Berardesca is pleased that police will be getting a new headquarters, and that the firefighters who work in Station 4, which adjoins Town Hall, will be getting a renovated firehouse. But, Station 2 needs attention as well.

"It's their home away from home," he said of the firefighters on Circular Avenue. "When there's a problem in our own home, we fix it. Our roofs don't leak at home. Our sewer pipes don't leak. But we have to live like this," Madigosky said.

Firefighters like Madigosky and Kevin Recca say they'd just as soon see a new roof at Station 2 and action taken to rid the station of the rodents, but Berardesca says that doing only that would throw good money after bad.

"Bringing the building up to code would take a lot of money and you would want to take care of the next 50 years," Berardesca said in defense of a new Station 2.

The building, which was constructed in 1908 and given to the town in 1949 in accordance with an agreement with the Humphrey Hook & Ladder Fire Association, has multiple problems.

The Department of Public Works has done what it could to maintain the building over the years, Berardesca said. And, the firefighters say they clean it every day, but because the place is so worn-out, it never looks clean.

The base of the foundation is crumbling. Rain leaks into the kitchen through windows in the room they sleep in. The floors are worn out and the only bathroom is used by male and female firefighters.

Firefighter Luis Torres said he's woken up to find silverfish on him.

Even when a fire isn't fought on any given day, the wives of Tricarico and Torres say they come home with an odd, musty odor. Firefighters also say that they leave the building all stuffed up because of mold and mildew. When the squirrels run over the ceiling at the rear of the firehouse, which houses vehicles and exercise equipment, dust from ceiling tiles falls on them.

Recca said he's often wondered what residents think of the station. "I don't think the town realizes how bad it is," he said.

"It's not hard to come to work," said Madigosky, who said the cameraderie among firefighters and helping the public is more important than the building itself. "It's just hard to believe they won't fix the building."

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Copyright 2009 Journal Register Co.

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