- Associated Press - Friday, October 10, 2014

GARY, Ind. (AP) - For more than two years, firefighters from the city’s Station 5 in the Glen Park neighborhood have been without a permanent home. In fact, the firefighters haven’t even been in Gary.

Station 5 firefighters were forced to leave its firehouse at 4101 Washington Ave. in August 2012 when a contractor doing upgrades on the interior of the building discovered asbestos, firefighter Tom Bober told The Times (http://bit.ly/1vbhr27 ).

The firefighters were moved to Merrillville, where the Gary Fire Department rented space for $3,000 a month at the fire station on 57th Avenue. Less than a year later, they moved to the Calumet Township Multipurpose Center, 1900 W. 41st Ave.

Bober describes the station’s firefighters as “homeless,” which is perhaps fitting because they share a building with a homeless shelter. The facility is also used for hall rentals.

But that also presents challenges. Shortly after moving into the Calumet township facility, firefighters nearly missed a call because of the booming DJ music coming from the hall below them, Bober said. The music was so loud on one occasion a former captain slept in the fire engine.

That fire engine is on the opposite end of the L-shaped building where the firefighters are housed. Accessing it when responding to a call entails walking down stairs and out the front door of the multipurpose center and hustling across the parking lot that is sometimes filled with puddles of water or snow.

Walking through the building and passing the homeless shelter to get to the engine is “frowned upon,” Bober said.

“The response time is much slower here,” he said.

Bober said their backup, Engine 12 from the station at 19th Avenue and Mississippi Street, has beaten them on calls.

Station 5 firefighters call their current accommodations less than ideal. The cramped quarters include a bathroom only feet away from where the firefighters prepare meals. Unlike at the old Station 5 firehouse, there is no laundry facility and they can’t wash their turnout gear after a fire.

“At least Merrillville was a firehouse,” Bober said. “We had to make compromises, but it was still a firehouse.”

Firefighter James Powell said at the end of the day, despite all the neglect, they still do their job.

“We’re not trying to put the administration on the spot or the chief on the spot,” he said. “We just want what’s right for us. We need to be in a fire station.”

Gary Fire Chief Teresa Everett said Station 5 closed because it was in need of extensive repairs.

“We have not yet determined if a new station will open at that location,” she said. “We will operate out of the multipurpose center until such time as we are able to relocate. There are plans to open a new station; the location has not been finalized.”

She said the fire department doesn’t own the Multipurpose Center, so any potential improvements to the structure are limited.

“We recognize the facility has some limitations, but it provides an opportunity to for the city to continue to provide emergency response services to our residents,” she said.

In September, Gary firefighters joined city police at City Hall to protest a lack of pay increases and equipment. Some firefighters are now selling T-shirts to raise money for that equipment. Bober said Gary firefighters aren’t asking for much.

“Just make us feel like firemen,” he said. “Give us the pride we deserve.”

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Information from: The Times, http://www.thetimesonline.com

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