By John Burton
RED BANK – Liberty Hose Volunteer Fire Company on White Street may not be losing its house immediately but it has to find a new home.
Borough Council President Arthur V. Murphy III said the fire company’s structure is aging and needs extensive repairs or will have to be replaced. “The borough just doesn’t have that kind of money,” he said.
The cost of building a new firehouse would be in the $2.5 million to $3 million range, Murphy said.
Murphy also stressed, contrary to rumors, that “No offer has been made on the building at all,” and the borough council currently does not have plans to sell the site.
Murphy added that an adjacent property owner has expressed an interest in discussing the possible purchase if borough officials go that route.
For the immediate future Liberty Hose company members have been talking with the borough’s first aid squad about relocating the fire trucks and equipment to the squad’s 151 Spring St. facility. During the post-Sandy power outage, officials discovered that the trucks located at the White Street firehouse could fit in the squad facility, Murphy said. “We have to find some place for the trucks. We’re not going to park them on the street.”
The borough has six fire companies. The White Street firehouse – the building dates back to 1910 – is one of two fire department properties owned by the municipality, according to Borough Administrator Stanley Sickels, who also serves as borough fire marshal and is longtime member of the volunteer fire department. The borough also owns Independent Engine’s 32 Mechanic St. location, and is responsible for upkeep of those sites. The other companies are independently incorporated, though “the trucks all belong to the borough,” Murphy said.
The Liberty Hose Company building is “old and needs a lot of work,” Sickels said.
Murphy noted that the location has an ongoing issue with mold, it needs brick-and-mortar work and windows and the roof would have to be replaced, if it continues to be used.
“Something’s going to have to happen; it’s only a matter of time,” Murphy said. “It’s either build another firehouse – which we don’t have the money for – or we put them in another house where we have the room.”
As for any possible future sale of the location, it could be possible down the road. “We wouldn’t hang on to it,” Murphy said.
The sale of the location would require public discussion and agreement by council members and then advertising for bids, Sickels said.
The idea of closing the firehouse is about more than the condition of the building and reflects trends in the volunteer emergency services. All around Monmouth County volunteer fire companies are either consolidating or considering it, Murphy noted.
“Times are changing,” he said. Local volunteer departments, here and elsewhere, are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit and train new members and municipalities are having difficulty equipping them. “It really is just a matter of time before consolidation,” Murphy said.
The Liberty Hose company has 21 active members, Sickels said.
Frank Woods, president of Liberty Hose company, said he is prohibited from commenting on fire department policy, referring inquiries to the fire chief. Fire Chief Thomas Doremus Jr. did not return phone calls seeking comment.