The Times Herald (Norristown, PA)


As one: Chief O’Donnell talks vision for fire station consolidat­ion project Service: Fire chief stresses that the idea is important for municipali­ty

- By Rachel Ravina rravina@thereporte­ronline. com

NORRISTOWN >> Norristown Fire Chief Tom O’Donnell has a vision for how firefighte­rs could respond to calls for service more efficientl­y.

His idea involves finding a new place for the Norristown Fire Department to call home.

“An analysis was done,” O’Donnell told MediaNews Group. “We can consolidat­e or merge our four existing fire stations into one centrally located fire station, hopefully in the center of town, that would have zero impact on the delivery of services to the community, and it would allow us to better streamline our operation, reduce our fleet, reduce our equipment, certainly reduce our fire houses.”

The Norristown Fire Department currently has 23 career firefighte­rs and 14 volunteers. Those volunteer service members are “scattered amongst four fire stations,” O’Donnell said.

“We’re desperatel­y in need of consolidat­ing our services into a uniform business model that really makes more sense than the way we’re currently operating,” he said.

Like so many fire companies, Norristown’s volunteer numbers are dwindling.

“Most of our fire stations today don’t even have enough volunteers to put a fire truck out on the street,” he said.

Four stations are located throughout the geographic boundaries of the munic

ipality: Norristown Hose Fire Company — Station A, 627 DeKalb St.; Montgomery Hose Fire Company — Station B, 201 W. Freedley St.; Fairmount Engine Company No 2 — Station D, 401 W. Main St.; and Hancock Fire Company — Station — E, 820 W. Airy St. Administra­tive offices are located at 235 E. Airy St. Facilities that O’Donnell said were initially built back in the 1800s.

“These old fire houses are really, they were designed for, the stations that we have currently were designed for really horses and buggies not for 70-and80,000 pound fire trucks,” he said. “So some of the fire stations are starting to show there weakness.”

When asked about the initiative’s origin story O’Donnell stressed that “the idea of merging and consolidat­ing fire stations in Norristown is nothing new.” There was interest in pursuing the matter on a previous occasion, but O’Donnell said what it “lacked was that financial motivation from the municipali­ty.”

O’Donnell said that he’s currently in talks with representa­tives from the municipali­ty, including Municipal Administra­tor Crandall Jones and members of the Norristown Municipal Council, to try and move things forward.

O’Donnell stressed that municipal partnershi­p in helping to secure funding is key because “at the end of the day, I don’t need volunteer firefighte­rs out fundraisin­g, and figuring out who’s going to pay the electric bill, or the gas bill or the phone bill.”

“Really what I need our volunteers to do is be focused on helping the community when we need them the most,” he said.

However, it comes down to the money. While the Municipali­ty of Norristown received a $3 million grant from the Commonweal­th of Pennsylvan­ia’s Redevelopm­ent Assistance Capital Program in late October, O’Donnell anticipate­d the project would cost between $10 million and $11 million in its entirety.

“Right now, it is in a discussion mode,” O’Donnell said. “Our goal is to move it as soon as we can forward, and I’m sure we will be able to get there, but it takes a lot of logistics. It’s not like renting an apartment or buying a house.”

“These are capital investment­s that at the end of the day we need to make sure everything the ‘I’s’ are dotted, the ‘T’s’ are crossed, and every facet from engineerin­g to make sure that

the grounds safe to constructi­on plans,” he continued. “There’s a lot that is put into these fire station.”

The public safety agency responds to around 1,400 calls for service each year, with an average response time of four minutes.

“The Norristown Fire Department, we’re one of the busiest fire department­s in the county,” O’Donnell said. “We have a lot of calls in our community, and we want to make sure everything that we do in this new facility benefits the community.”

The four structures are owned by the volunteer fire companies, according to O’Donnell. If the initiative moves forward, O’Donnell said he’d like to see the buildings function as restaurant­s or other businesses that could generate revenue in the community.

When asked about a possible timeline, O’Donnell was candid in his response.

“If it was my decision it would have been done already,” he said, adding that ideally, the “next 24 months as my desire, in the next couple of years we could have this project at least started if not finished…”

While the project has not gained momentum, with no formal plans yet submitted, O’Donnell still emphasized how location accessibil­ity is key for the future fire sta


“It’s truly about us being able to get to all four quadrants. Whether it’s the east end, the west end, the south ends of our community, or the northern ends of our community in the quickest

way possible,” O’Donnell said. “We’re trying to keep our new station location as centered into our community as possible because that’s at the end of the day that’s what’s going to help our residents the most.”

 ?? ?? Montgomery Hose Fire Company is located at Pine and Freedley streets, Norristown.
Montgomery Hose Fire Company is located at Pine and Freedley streets, Norristown.
 ?? SUBMITTED PHOTO ?? Fairmount Engine Company, located at 401W. Main Street.
SUBMITTED PHOTO Fairmount Engine Company, located at 401W. Main Street.

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