Historic Chestnut Hill firehouse is too small for newer trucks

Chestnut Hill’s Engine 37 has outgrown its historic fire station at 101 West Highland Avenue and is seeking community input on how best to resolve the issue.  The fire company needs to upgrade its fire trucks, but those newer models are much wider than what the current firehouse can accommodate.  The Chestnut Hill Community Association (CHCA) discussed the matter at the August meeting of its Board.


“They’re looking for the community to come together to help them make a decision,” stated CHCA board member, Joyce Lenhardt at Thursday evening’s meeting.

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Lenhardt and CHCA Development Review Committee (DRC) co-chair, Larry McEwen met with representatives from the Philadelphia Fire Department, the head of the local station and the Chestnut Hill Historical Society (CHHS) after Engine 37 reached out to CHCA for advice and guidance.


Five different options are being considered:

modifying the station by widening the garage doors
build a separate garage on the empty lot next door
purchase a custom built fire truck which would fit the station
eliminate the station altogether
find a new location to build a state-of-the-art station for Engine 37 and repurpose the existing firehouse for community use

Lenhardt told the board that DRC members have expressed a “groundswell of opinion” that the last option is the best choice.


The Historical Society considers the firehouse to be a pre-eminent example of Romanesque architecture, valuable to historic district and has determined it to be a “significant building”, which is the highest classification of historical importance.  Both CHCA and CHHS agree that modification to retrofit the building would be detrimental. “We intend to protect the integrity of the structure,” asserted McEwen.


Building on the lot next door is still an option on the table.  The lot is city-owned and once housed an adjoining police station, which was torn down in 1959.  Having the trucks housed in a neighboring garage might cause delays as the fire fighters would still be housed in the second floor living quarters of the old building.  The old firehouse would be limited in its use, as modern emergency medical transport is also difficult to fit through the door.


Purchasing a custom fire truck would be less expensive than building a new station, but fraught with bureaucratic red tape as the city wishes all its fire engines to be uniform.  Elimination of a neighborhood station “is not something we want to consider,” Lenhardt said.


Precedent for building a brand new firehouse does exist.  McEwen pointed out that other communities have built new stations when the older ones no longer served functionality necessary for modern times.   Ladders 15 and 8 and Engine 59 are facing a similar situation, however, their stations are not deemed historically important.


At present, Engine 37 uses a fire truck which was manufactured in 1991. That vehicle barely has room to pass through the station garage door.  McEwen mentioned that the truck’s security hand railings have been removed in order to allow it to fit the egress.  The station’s garage door openings are nine feet, six inches wide.  The 1991 fire truck is 98 inches or 8 feet, 2 inches wide.  New trucks are five inches wider than that.  McEwen noted that a state-of-art fire station would feature a 14-foot garage door.


Engine 37 will soon obtain a slightly newer fire truck (built in 1995) to help it get through the next three to five years, until a solution is found.


The board unanimously voted its approval for the CHCA to co-author a letter to 8th District City Councilwoman Cindy Bass in conjunction with CHHS and the Fire Department.  The letter will be a formal request to actively explore building a new state-of-the-art fire station within the community and find a reuse of the original fire station that could be of benefit for the community and preserve its historical features. The DRC and selected other representatives were designated to carry the issue forward.



Other Business

Affective August 22, CHCA officially became a recognized community organization (RCO) under Philadelphia’s new zoning code.


Board members approved a proposal to rename the Aesthetics Committee.  The committee will be allowed to operate under its new name, the Streetscapes Committee until such a time as it can be officially changed in the association’s bylaws.


CHCA is looking into purchasing surveillance cameras for Chestnut Hill’s commercial corridor.  The association will put the bid before four different companies and try to secure funds through the neighborhood’s  business improvement district (BID) and the CHCA.  Officer Hall of Philadelphia Police’s 14th District is available to advise private property owners on security issues and crime prevention measures.


CHCA will be partnering again with the Center for Enrichment on the issue of Pennsylvania’s Voter ID Law.  A second information session will be held September 13 in the Chestnut Hill Hotel’s Bombay Room.  It was noted that any eligible voter over the age of 65 may also obtain an absentee ballot, regardless of health condition by requesting a form from City Hall.  Senior voters will need only to furnish the last four digits of their social security number or a driver’s license number in order to obtain the ballot.

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