By John Burton
SEA BRIGHT –The Sea Bright Volunteer Fire Department will have to get by with a little help from its friends.
The fire department is relocating some of its equipment to nearby towns after its building was deemed unsafe by federal and local authorities, due in large part to structural damage sustained during Super Storm Sandy in October 2012.
Councilman C. Read Murphy, who is also the borough’s Office of Emergency Management (OEM) director, said the volunteer department has reached out to area departments. Highlands and Long Branch have agreed to house two of the borough’s trucks and equipment while borough department members plan for temporary and permanent arrangements.
Plans are in the works to erect tents as a temporary facility on a vacant lot at the intersection of Peninsula and Ocean avenues. The tents, to be located where the Peninsula House hotel once stood, will house one of the department’s three fire trucks, Murphy said.
“It’s going to take a month to put that all together,” he said.
In the interim, the one truck will remain parked and accessible in the driveway of the damaged firehouse at 1167 Ocean Ave., he said.
The department’s two other trucks will be relocated to a Long Branch firehouse on Atlantic Avenue and to the Highlands fire company at 171 Shore Dr.
“Highlands called us” and offered to help while Long Branch “was right on top of it,” Murphy said.
“It was a very cooperative situation, which was great,” he said.
Highlands participates in the mutual-aid agreement with area departments, Highlands Fire Chief Bill Caizza said. “We had the space and we were happy to accommodate them.
“Anyone who needs a helping hand, that’s what volunteers are here for,” Caizza said. “It’s about the brotherhood. It’s all about helping your neighbor.”
The Sea Bright department will have a firefighter on hand in Long Branch to man the truck, if needed.
Murphy said because it is about a 5-minute drive from the Long Branch firehouse to Sea Bright, having a fire truck in the nearby town won’t pose any unreasonable delay in response time.
The Sea Bright firehouse is the second municipal building in recent weeks to be deemed substantially damaged from Super Storm Sandy, which hit more than 16 months ago. Oceanport offices and workers are now being moved out of borough hall. An engineering report found that structure to be unsafe.
In Sea Bright, the fire department and borough officials will work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on long-term plans and funding for a new firehouse, Murphy said.
“The plan is to tear (the firehouse) down and build a new one,” Murphy said. “When it’s all said and done, it’ll probably take us about a year.”
FEMA is preparing a project worksheet for a new facility and “will reimburse the applicant for demolition of the building and its replacement,” said Alberto Pillot, a FEMA spokesman, in an emailed response.
“We’ve been going back and forth with FEMA,” Murphy said . Initially, federal agency representatives said the building was beyond repair and would have to be demolished. But a subsequent FEMA review of the structure had representatives believing the building could be saved. A final inspection by FEMA and the borough’s engineer and construction official determined on Friday, March 7, that the site is unsafe and needed to be vacated immediately, Murphy said.
Murphy said the building has “been getting worse … The whole wall is caving in” on the building’s north side with cracks running the length of the building. There is also an ongoing mold problem and falling ceiling tiles, he said.
The firehouse, used by the department’s approximately 50 members, was built in 1955, with an addition constructed about 15 years ago, according to Murphy.