See ‘heartbreaking’ conditions inside Birmingham fire stations city councilors call ‘an emergency’

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Some Birmingham City Council members are saying city leadership has been acting like “deadbeat landlords” when it comes to the conditions of several buildings that serve as Birmingham Fire and Rescue stations.

CBS42 dug a little deeper into the “emergency” conditions at several Birmingham Fire stations that raised concerns at Tuesday’s city council meeting.  Councilors Kim Rafferty, Sheila Tyson, and President Pro-Tempore Steven Hoyt all spoke out about the issue, saying that the stations should be at the top of the city’s list of priorities.

Rafferty points to three places in particular: stations 21, 25, and 28.  Those stations, she said, have seen severe roofing problems over the years, and are in dire need for repair.

Don Baker, President of the Birmingham Firefighters Local 117, shared pictures with CBS 42 of the conditions inside of Station 21, where he once worked.  You can see them below.

He said that he was one of the first firefighters that had to begin using plastic garbage bags to catch a yellow liquid that would come through the ceiling when it rained.

“We’ve got a sickness with our buildings,” Baker said, “And it’s almost to the point where they’re not going to be recovered; they’re in such disrepair.  I can tell you, you’re looking at the station behind me?” He pointed to Station 21.  “You’re looking at potential here.  This is what’s going to keep happening to fire stations, and that’s dangerous for the city and the citizens of Birmingham.  We’ve got a station [Kingston station 8] closed over there, and it prolongs the response time.”

While Rafferty and Baker agree that the biggest priority for the buildings is roofing, they also both acknowledged that the problems didn’t stop there.

Baker pointed out buckets and tarps in the photos that catch and redirect leaks.  Ceiling tiles are crumbling away or are completely missing.  Baker is concerned about the possibility for mold and the health of the firefighters that work–and live–inside the stations.

“Can you imagine going out and working on a fire for two to three hours in the rain, coming back, and how’s your morale going to be when you walk in your station and it’s raining inside?” he said.  “It hurts morale and it hurts their health.”

When asked how the situation got to this point, Baker said he’s not sure, but that it happened over time.  He also said he’s not interested in making accusations.  He just wants to make sure that improvements are made quickly enough to make a difference.

“We back millions of dollars of apparatus into these fire stations that a lot of people–I mean, you wouldn’t live in it if it was your house,” he said.  “How do you expect us to, here?”

At Tuesday’s council meeting, Mayor Bell told concerned council members that his office is planning to meet with architects–both on the Kingston Fire Station and for assessments of the other fire stations.

CBS42 caught up with him today to ask why he thinks the fire station issue reached a boiling point at this week’s meeting.

“We’re going into the political season,” he responded.

Bell said that they are currently working on plans for all of the fire stations to be upgraded through their contract with the Trane Corporation.  Bell also explained that the stations have been “pitiful” since he came into office.

“The city was faced with a $78 million deficit,” Bell explained.  “We didn’t know where we were going to get the money to operate city government.  Much less repair the buildings.”

Bell said since that time, his team has come up with a plan to address the needs of the fire stations, and financing.  “We presented the financing to the council some time ago,” he said, “and it wasn’t approved until-I think-maybe about a month ago.  Until that time, we couldn’t go forward with the actual design and construction until we had the money in place.  Now that we’ve got that, we’re full speed ahead.”

Bell told CBS42 that construction will begin on many of the fire stations within the next six weeks.  He said they are also looking forward to a presentation from Trane on Friday.  Bell estimated that the cost for the various projects will be between $55 and $65 million.  “And that will be paid for, overtime, out of the savings that will come forward with our energy savings,” he said. “With the new LED lighting that will be placed inside the buildings–it’s going to reduce our operating cost.  It’s going to ensure that we don’t spend as much money and those funds will be used to fund the current improvements that are being made.”

Bell also addressed the demolition of the Kingston fire station, and rebuked a claim from Hoyt at the Tuesday meeting that nothing had been done with the station since the summer.  “That required immediate action,” Bell said, “because of the fact that it was condemned and it was a health hazard, but the other stations are not in that bad condition, but we are treating them all as priority.”

Rafferty told CBS42 that she has toured all of the stations and that the conditions break her heart.  She said that the administration has not maintained it’s facilities and that they’ve acted as a sort of “deadbeat landlord.”  Sheila Tyson also toured Station 21 on Wednesday.

“We’re like the forgotten children in the city when it comes to the places that we stay when we’re serving the citizens,” Baker said.  “I know that there is a plan.  A long-term, probably slow-process plan.  But I think during the execution of that plan, some of the priorities aren’t being looked at first.  The top priority is not being taken care of, first.”

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