Lazaretto Lazaretto
Source: Philadelphia Business Journal
Date: July 11, 2003
Byline: Natalie Kostelni

Tinicum firefighters getting a new home

Bernardon Haber Holloway has designed a 39,000-square-foot fire station for the Tinicum Fire Co. that may be part of a bigger trend affecting fire companies across the state.

Tinicum is one of the first fire companies to form out of a merger of two neighboring fire companies in Essington and Lester, two Delaware County communities near the Philadelphia International Airport that have their roots in industries which once dotted areas along the Delaware River. The two groups merged for financial and coverage reasons, hoping that combining resources will put them on course for a stable future.

"This particular fire station is unique in the state of Pennsylvania," said Gerry Hanby, an architect at the Kennett Square, Chester County, firm that initially worked on the project. Its uniqueness comes as a result of the two stations merging, something that the state is encouraging and is likely to happen more often in the future.

"This has become somewhat of a test program," Hanby said.

While it became necessary for a new station to be constructed after the two combined forces, it became even more urgent in light of the fact that most modern-day fire equipment no longer fits in firehouses that are sometimes up to 60 years or more old, Hanby said.

Fire equipment has become bigger and more sophisticated, he said. The new firehouse off Tinicum Island Road in Essington will be large enough to accommodate state-of-the-art equipment, including a boat, and it will have eight vehicle bays. It will also house rescue and other emergency medical service vehicles.

Both stations were so-called "second response" teams to any fire-related problems at the airport. They also, by way of sitting along the Delaware, were on-call to respond to any marine situations.

While fighting fires is obviously a priority for fire companies, a firehouse also serves as a social gathering place for the community. In turn, a large banquet facility that will seat between 200 and 300 people was incorporated into the plans. In addition to being a meeting place, fire halls are major sources of income for firefighting organizations. The banquet hall would double as an emergency evacuation center.

Another aspect of the new facility is a recreation area. It became apparent after extensive interviewing that it was important to have a space the firefighters could use to simply hang around the station.

"The best way to get them to respond is to have people at the station," Hanby said as opposed to having them drive in from their homes or work, which ends up happening more often than not because of the all-volunteer status of most fire companies. The recreation room has exercise equipment, a pool table and a big screen television. There are also 10 bunks in the firehouse.

"The kind of stuff that guys at a fire station would like," said Geoffrey Coleman, an architect at Bernardon Haber who is the currently overseeing the project.

The exterior of the fire station will look somewhat industrial because of the town in which it is located, Coleman said.

The station will borrow certain architectural features, such as large arched doors and the use of brick, found throughout the industrial buildings in Essington and its neighboring towns of Lester and Tinicum. It will also recall fire stations from the past and have a cupola on top for the siren. In older fire stations, the cupolas not only housed a fire bell but doubled as a hose drying tower for the canvas hoses once commonly used in firefighting.

Ground is expected to be broken in October. Progress was held up a bit because the site, being that it lies adjacent to the Delaware River, sits in a swampy area and needed to be stabilized with piles of new dirt. The project should be completed by the fall of 2004.