THIS IS on the ground floor of the city’s fire headquarters. The right side of partition is deemed structurally unsafe to park vehicles due to the condition of the floor. (Neil Zolot Photo)



MELROSE — The Fire and Police Departments held open houses at their aging headquarters to highlight the inadequacies of their buildings and garner support for new facilities on Tuesday, May 16.

“It’s to show the current conditions the staff has to work in,” Fire Chief Ed Collina said. “It’s less than desirable.”

That’s an understatement.

“It’s to show how outdated and unusable the building is for modern policing,” Police Chief Kevin Faller added.

The Fire Station, 576 Main Street, dates to 1885 when fire horses were used. The back wall of the station has a boarded up hay loft window.

The Police Station, 56 West Foster Street, dates to 1906 and was once used as a telephone wire switching station. There are still wires once used by telephone operators to connect calls. It became Police Headquarters in 1950.

The Fire Station has three floors, with the ground floor holding fire trucks and ambulances, the second floor living quarters and the third a conference room.

The basement has been outfitted with permanent and temporary vertical beams to support the floor above, with the rear portion of the garage floor deemed unsafe to park vehicles. It’s not an exaggeration to say the building is collapsing.

The garage doors facing Main are barely wide enough for fire trucks, which are outfitted with the narrowest side mirrors available. Their height is just below the ceiling. “We can’t shrink the pieces,” Fire Captain Jamie Gibson said. “Some of the apparatus doesn’t fit. In a new station the doors would have to be wider.”

The living quarters are cramped and the kitchen appliances old. Floor tiles are loose or missing. The wiring is old and barely supports the use of electronic equipment, if at all.


IT’S A TIGHT FIT for today’s fire apparatus inside Melrose’s main fire house, which was built when pumpers were pulled by horses. (Neil Zolot Photo)


Conditions at substations on East Foster and Tremont Streets are not as bad, but still inadequate.

The Police Station is not as dilapidated as the Fire Station, but has crowded offices, small booking, evidence and file storage spaces. Some “offices” are spots in hallways with temporary partitions. Cabinets with arms or devices to combat drug overdoses are in hallways.

There are inadequate spaces for female officers, female detainees, families with juveniles in need of a safe space and space for meetings of more than three or four officers.

The electric system is inadequate as well. Computers often crash.

The condition of the facilities has made it difficult for the city to recruit and retain firefighters and police officers. “We’re seeing people not wanting to come here,” Collina reported.

“Having a new station has a huge effect on hiring and retention,” Faller said. “We just tried to hire people and they went to other facilities. Having a new station would be tremendous for recruitment and morale.” He saw it happen when he worked in Medford, which recently built a new police station.

Resident Katy Kennedy toured both facilities. She called the Fire Station “a disgrace. It’s deplorable. It’s been neglected.” Her opinion of the Police Station wasn’t much better.


MAINTENANCE crews do what they can to deal with leaks inside police headquarters on West Foster Street. (Neil Zolot Photo)


The issue resonates with her because her father was a Boston firefighter. “I’m a strong supporter of the need to replace our public safety buildings,” she said. “It’s time for Melrose to support a debt override to give safety to the men and women who put their lives on the line. These public servants deserve our support.”

Collina estimates the cost at at least $100 million. A new Fire Station would probably be at 576 Main, but the site for a new Police Station would be 94 Lebanon Street near the Madlen line at the corner of Forest Street, site of the Ripley School now being used by an education collaborative. That isn’t in the center of the city, but Faller said response time would not be affected. “Officers respond to calls from the street,” he said. “They’re on patrol all over the city.”

Another double open house will be held Tuesday, May 30 at 5:30 p.m. followed by a presentation of recommendations by the Public Safety Buildings Committee in a forum in the Melrose High’s Driscoll Learning Commons at 7 p.m.