The Columbus Division of Fire has been cited as a model for others around the world. It's one of only three major fire departments in the country to be accredited by an international commission.
But for all the accolades, a few of its fire stations are run down, including Engine House 16 in North Linden.
It's one of the busiest fire stations in the city. The Engine & Medic took 5,500 runs last year while the Rescue Unit went on about 3,400. Despite that, some of its firefighters say the building is one of the worst in the whole department.
Assistant Public Safety Director Dan Giangardella says the city is aware of conditions at Fire Station 16. He says the building is not pretty, but it’s functional, adding the station just received a brand new $600,000 fire truck a few weeks ago.
But firefighter Robert Karn - who has spent most of his 27 years at Station 16 - says age has taken its toll on the old engine house. The floor on which the expensive fire vehicles are parked is a maze of cracked and crumbled concrete. Karn points out that water can accumulate in the cracks and pose safety hazards to those working in the station. “That’s pretty significant,” he says.
Moreover, Karn says an even bigger water problem persists in the building’s basement.
"We've had water leaking into this basement from (a) tunnel since I came here in 1990; just continuously leaking. That's right: we literally have algae growing,” explains Karn.
The firefighters say the leak is coming from an area deep inside a tunnel that plumbers can't get to without major excavation. In response, the city has spent more than $400,000 in repairs on the building over the years.
However, Giangardella says city officials aren’t keen on pumping more money into a station they plan to replace it in the next few years.
The fire station at McGuffey & Weber also sits on a lot so small that there's no room to put in a fence to protect firefighter's cars.
“I'd say over half of us have had our cars broken into at one point or another. We pulled in from a run one night and a guy was running down the street with my tool box,” recalls Karn.
Giangardella says those issues will be addressed when city officials design a new station, making sure there is adequate parking for firefighters. Planning for the new Station 16 will also include recommendations from the firefighters on what they'd like to see in it.
Although the future looks bright, some of the firefighters who work there - like Robert Karn - say they won't be around to see it. “I'll be retired by then, seriously,” he laughs.
Meanwhile, funding has already been approved to start buying land and working toward a design for the new engine house. Public safety officials say a new fire station will cost at least $6 million.