Taylor Mill’s firehouse is in bad shape and city officials invited residents to tell them what they think the city ought to do about it.
On August 30 and September 3 there were open house events at the firehouse and about three to four dozen residents came to take a look at it. Fire Chief John Stager and Assistant Fire Chief General Fernbach were on hand to give people tours and point out some of the major flaws.
“When this was built, it was perfect,” said Fernbach. “There is a good sleeping quarters, a kitchen area, and a day room. Anything else is a bonus for me. You know, (the firefighters) live here every third day. They spend a third of their lives here. If you ask me for priorities, it’s mostly for the guys.”
On Wednesday, the city commission held a special meeting dedicated to the subject of the firehouse.
“We have been talking about the firehouse since 2020, there are issues with the structure of the building, so the commission has four choices on the table that they’re looking at,” said City Administrator Brian Haney. “They are either going to try to repair the existing structure, and there are some guidelines and some recommendations from our engineers. They are going to look at possibly building a second firehouse onto the the backside of the bays, so repurpose the bays and tear down the front, or go to a third location, which is on a property the city bought back in 2010 or so, and build a new firehouse back there. The fourth option is to do nothing. So the commission is trying to decide if they should do something, and if they do something, how much do they want to spend.”
“I think we have a fifth choice,” said Commissioner Mark Kreimborg. “We can also talk to another agency to contract with or merge with another fire department.”
The problems with the firehouse are numerous. The front of the building which houses the offices, the living quarters, the kitchen and day area, the laundry room and the equipment room, is sinking, causing structural problems. Last year the roof was fixed which took care of some of the water leaks, but the 4-inch brick walls are porous and when it rains, the bricks weep water causing the drywall to be affected. Stains on the ceiling tiles and drywall are very visible. There is asbestos inside some of the walls, which are bowing from age and weight, and although the city has taken care of the mold problems, due to the porous nature of the brick there is always the spectre of mold, and it has to be cleaned as soon as it is identified. The walls, and the casing around the windows and doors are unsightly, officials said.
A major concern is that there is no defined hot area, where firefighters can come in wearing their equipment after fighting a fire and be able to sluice the carcinogens off their apparel before entering the living quarters. Firefighters shed their gear and put their heavy coats and pants into a residential sized washer and dryer which is also used for regular clothes and towels. The washer they are using was found in the basement of the community center and pressed into service, but there should be an industrial washer specifically for firefighter gear due to the carcinogens associated with fighting fires. Another regular washer and dryer can be used for clothes and towels, but it is critical, according to state standards, to have separate equipment for gear, and a differentiated area for people wearing that gear.
The city approved a $53,000 facility assessment by CT Consultants, the city’s engineers, which outline the various problems and the cost of fixing them. In 2021 there were 20 recommendations attempting to fix the firehouse for a cost of $730,600 put before commissioners, and initially they voted to address 12 of the concerns, but then the Covid pandemic hit, and prices rose quickly. Commissioners then began to doubt the efficacy of paying so much for what some considered to be Band-Aids when they could consider building a new firehouse.
At the public hearing, there were 11 speakers out of the approximate three dozen people who attended.
“I think we need to put in line our resources and needs, because we don’t have the money to spend on a new fire house,” Stu Bowns stated.
He pointed out that extra monies from the government during Covid have been earmarked and used, so future revenue will be flat. He also reviewed the funds taken in the last three years from the municipal road aid fund, concluding that next year the city will only have $13,000 to spend on roads in the city, and he said that is not enough.
Haney said that since they only receive $120,000 from the state for fixing roads, they always take money out of the fund budgeted for road repairs, and that fund is zeroed out at the end of the year, and re-funded the next year, since the city typically spends about a half million on streets every year.
Rich Meyer said he had always been a proponent of a new city building, but no commissioners since 1990 have wanted to go into debt for anything, so the city building has only had a facelift. However, the cost of a new firehouse has made him caution taking a step back.
“We need to get our ducks in order, especially when we are going out to borrow money,” he said.
Lieutenant Charles Riley, who is a firefighter/paramedic with Taylor Mill, had a different opinion.
“I love working in Taylor Mill,” he stated. “That’s our life, in that building, that’s nine livelihoods. We use the same washer and dryer for everything. We are appreciative of the raise the city gave us, but I’m asking you to think of us, living and working in that building.”
Ed Kuehne and Ed Kreimborg both thought the city wasted the $53,000 spent to get the facility assessment.
“We need a firehouse!” Kuehne stated. “But we need to have it rebuilt!”
Ed Kreimborg said he didn’t think the need justified the loan.
Tom Koehler thought the estimates of $7.6 million to repair the building and $9.3 million to build a new firehouse were ‘outlandish’, further citing $66,000 for a new HVAC system for 1800 square feet, and $44,000 for lighting. He told commissioners that it isn’t Christmas, and they should look at needs instead of wants, and he thinks the fourth bay should be turned into a ‘hot’ area for the firefighters.
Mike Blackburn, who is running for mayor against incumbent Dan Bell, said he wished the city could have everything they want, but it isn’t feasible with the money the city has.
“They need a maintenance building a lot more than we need a firehouse,” he said. “The maintenance department has had a condemned building for 8 to 10 years, am I correct?”
Receiving affirmation, he went on to ask the commission why they have not tried to buy an older doctor’s building that was available, or any other building that they could have used instead of coming to the dire straits they are now in.
Most of the comments were concerned with the amount of money proposed to fix or build new, but the consensus, if any, was that something has to be done, and people want the city to fix what they have. The “let’s make do” attitude has been very strong in the city, and was the main thought component defeating the movement to build an entire new campus of city buildings back in 2010.
Steven Smiley had a more businesslike take on the situation.
“I think you should listen to what the people who work in the building have to say,” he said. “If the people tell you they need something, you should go with what your guys tell you they need.”
He produced news articles about what had happened in other cities when people in charge didn’t listen to what the employees said they needed.
David Volz asked what was the purpose of being a city if they can’t provide fire and police coverage.
Chief John Stager stated very definite opinions.
“This is a hard time for me, understanding the fiscal responsibility of the city and not only the needs of the station, but the needs of our firefighters,” Stager said. “This is their home a third of their lives.”
He said that when he was hired in 2010, he was told of an idea that within two years the city was planning on building a new campus that was going to house Fire, Police and Administration.
“That was a great recruiting tool,” he explained. “Here we are today, twelve years later and have no such tool to recruit with.
Departments all around the Northern Kentucky area are constantly campaigning for and maintaining quality employees, Stager said. While he does understand the economic restraints the city faces, Stager stated that trying to attract and keep current employees with fairly competitive wages but nothing else, such as a newer station and modern apparatus is difficult.
“When touring the station with potential new employees it’s hard to hide the fact that the building has issues,” Stager explained. “These issues have been discussed during my tenure as Fire Chief and some progress has been made. I will continue to be an advocate for the department maintaining an open progressive dialogue for the needs of the station, equipment and personnel, while being mindful of my fiscal responsibilities as Fire Chief.”
The next step in the process is for the commissioners to discuss the options at the monthly caucus meeting on September 28 at 10 am. The public is invited to attend that meeting.
The matter will not be discussed at the regular commission meeting next Wednesday.