By Jessica Thomas and John Schaffner
Exposed electrical wires over the shower in a bathroom, a leaky roof and rotted wood generally are indicators of sub-par living conditions.
The firefighters at Atlanta Fire Station 27 in Buckhead live in these conditions every day and the nearby residents are determined to change that situation.
Marci Vincent is the chair of a recently formed committee of Mt. Paran-Northside Citizens Association members to help improve conditions at Station 27.
Declaring the station is in dire need of a complete renovation, Vincent proclaimed, “The fundamental (interior) infrastructure is horrendous. Nothing is up to code.
“A new roof needs to be put on the building, the gutters are nonexistent, the electricity is not up to code, the plumbing is bad and (living) conditions are terrible,” she explained.
Built in 1956, Fire Station 27 houses four firefighters per shift and is the primary response unit for the area between I-75, and Lake Forrest Drive north of West Paces Ferry Road. More than 80 percent of the station’s calls are health related.
The city has only allocated $25,000 a year for the renovations and repairs for the 36 fire stations in Atlanta, and Vincent said that is not much money for the work that needs to be done just at Fire Station 27.
“We can hope for improvements, but with the city budget shortfall, fire station repairs are very low on the list,” she said.
In December, Vincent and other association members visited the station at the corner of Northside and West Conway drives to bring the firefighters an annual holiday lunch. They were shocked by the environment in which the firefighters were living.
Lynne Moscow had been bringing the holiday lunch to the firefighters for almost 20 years, but she had simply dropped off the food in former years. This past December, she was joined by other association members, including association president Yolanda Adrean and Vincent, and they socialized with the firemen.
At one point, Adrean was told to look at the bathroom facilities in the barracks where the firefighters live and sleep when on their shift.
Adrean said she was shocked at what she saw: the bathroom facility has one shower with a rusted light fixture and another is out of service. Tiles were crumbling everywhere.
The dorm area also was more than a little disturbing to the association group.
“Grown men are sleeping on twin beds — not even extra long twins like they have in college dorms,” Adrean said.
Privacy is minimal as the only division between the beds is a row of old lockers.
But, that is not all. There are holes in the ceilings and leaks throughout the facility. A large bucket rests in a duct in the kitchen to catch water when it rains. Window frames are rusted, electrical panels have wires hanging from them and an emergency generator is suspiciously housed in a closed room with its fuel tank exposed on the side of the building.
After witnessing conditions at the firehouse, the civic association rallied to the cause.
They have had engineers look at the building and they have declared it structurally sound, Vincent explained. Buckhead resident and well-known Atlanta architect Carl Muldawer has donated his time and expertise to work up a floor plan for a renovation project at the fire station.
The group is now getting together cost estimates for the work they would like to see done, fully understanding the burden of paying for the work will rest with them.
“It will be an on-going fundraiser,” said Vincent. “We’ll go door-to-door if we have to.”
The money will be donated through the Atlanta Fire Foundation, Inc.
The committee has brought in several plumbers, electricians, contractors, architects and engineers to assess the scope of the work needed at the building.
On May 5, the group will submit a proposal to Dist. 8 Atlanta City Councilmember Clair Muller, so that she can write legislation for approval of the work by the entire council.
Many elderly people come to the station to have their blood pressure checked, Vincent noted. The station’s facilities need to be up to code so the elderly are able to get around, she said, including being wheelchair accessible.
Chief Reginald Lattimer, the Atlanta Fire Department’s chief of community affairs said there will be a major aesthetic overhaul done to the station. But, he adds, “There aren’t any safety concerns right now.”
Vincent disagreed with his statement.
“Our intention is to help these firefighters,” she said. “We don’t want to put a band aid on it with aesthetics. We need to repair the problems.”
She emphasized this is not a battle between the neighborhood residents and city of Atlanta.
“We don’t want to go up against the city,” she said. “We’ve just got to do something about their (the firefighters) living conditions.”
This is not the first time citizen groups have rallied to improve the living quarters at Atlanta fire stations. In Buckhead alone, the Buckhead Alliance last year raised funds to improve conditions at Fire Station 21 on Roswell Road just north of Peachtree Road.
Fire Station 26 on Howell Mill Road was remodeled after WXIA-TV Channel 11 news reporter Bill Liss led an effort that resulted in donations from Home Depot, Rooms To Go and others.