MARGATE — As he walks around his hometown’s 101-year-old but freshly reopened firehouse, Fire Chief Anthony Tabasso is happy to show off new additions to the building.
The chief also likes to point out some history lessons in the old landmark.
On the new side are three garage doors about 12 feet high. Two of the old bay doors were just 10 feet tall, which was fine when the firehouse was new in 1912 but isn’t high enough for most modern firefighting vehicles, Tabasso said.
Another new touch to the building at Ventnor and Washington avenues is a staircase at the back leading from the garage to living quarters and offices on the second floor. Those straight stairs, about 4 feet wide, replace a narrow spiral staircase that was hard to use and especially hard to carry anything up or down, the chief said.
Outside, a straight brick wall on the side of the firehouse toward Atlantic City replaces a wall that was so crooked and deteriorated, the building had to be shut down in August 2011 for a repair project that was finished late last month.
Hurricane Sandy complicated the renovations six months ago, when the firehouse flooded about 30 inches in the middle of the work. Tabasso figures it pushed back progress by a month or so, but as Margate Mayor Mike Becker sees it, the storm caused more delays than that.
“We were rolling along pretty good, the contractors were moving along, but when Sandy came, they couldn’t work for a while, and it was hard to get a good restart again,” Becker said. “It probably kept us longer than if we had been able to continue without the storm.”
Sandy also flooded the adjoining City Hall, which was built in 1903 and later was connected to the firehouse. Since the storm, most city operations have operated out of the previously closed Union Avenue School building. The mayor said officials still haven’t figured out what to do about City Hall.
Still, he said he is happy some estimates had the cost of renovating the firehouse, alone, at $5 to $6 million. “But the project now is done, and with bonding fees and everything, the cost is about $2 million,” Becker said. “So we’re saving the city’s taxpayers $3 million.”
While Margate’s main firehouse was closed for 21 months, the department ran much of its operations outside the city. The Longport Volunteer Fire Department provided a temporary home to Margate’s firefighters and equipment, a setup that officials said worked out well for both departments.
“They assisted us on fire and (medical) calls,” Longport Chief Levon Clayton said. “If there were life-threatening medical emergencies, they would be first responders and stabilize the patient until our ambulance arrived, and then we would transport the person to the hospital.”
Longport’s volunteer firefighters don’t normally have someone living in their station, so Margate also took care of cleaning and maintaining the Longport firehouse while they were stationed there full-time. Margate had coverage of the opposite end of the city from Longport at its small, second firehouse, a few blocks from the Ventnor border.
Tabasso said he had “nothing but praise and thanks and thanks” for Longport’s cooperation during the rebuilding of the main firehouse.
“We shared services, and it just worked,” he said.
That long-running renovation kept one historic piece of Margate’s own firehouse — the brass pole that firefighters would slide down from their living quarters to rush to their trucks and a fire call. The pole really hasn’t been used in decades, said Tabasso, who started working in this firehouse more than 35 years ago, but it’s always popular when kids take a tour of the firehouse.
The new firehouse will have an open house, as-yet unscheduled, so residents can see the results of the rebuilding, he said.
When they come, people will see another new addition — added into bricks picked to match the ones in the historic building.
On the front of the firehouse, facing Ventnor Avenue, are two diamond-shaped stones with numbers etched into them. One is 9/11 — an obvious reference to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The other stone says 343, a number whose meaning isn’t so obvious.
“That’s how many firefighters were killed in New York that day,” Tabasso said. “I’m sure people are going to ask about it, and they’re going to be told. And then, I think, they probably will remember it.”
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