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Two of the District’s busiest fire companies are back in their old home, and everyone in Trinidad and Ivy City should feel safer for it.
The D.C. Fire Department’s Engine 10 and Truck 13 returned this month to the historic firehouse they share on Florida Avenue NE after a 2.5-year absence, during which the century-old building underwent renovations. The companies had separated in the interim, with Engine 10 temporarily housed on the western side of the Gallaudet University campus, and Truck 13 stationed a whole 12 blocks south on C Street SE.
Both still took calls from their original Northeast neighborhoods, but being that much farther away noticeably extended response times, said Truck 13 driver Mike Fulcher.
A department veteran for 19 years, Fulcher credited the move back to the old station – now outfitted with some novel perks – for bringing the companies back to their old efficiency. He couldn’t give a precise measurement, but he said he can easily tell how much faster his unit can handle emergencies since the return to Trinidad.
Nicknamed the “House of Pain” (insanely aggressive website here), the firehouse that sees more action than any other in the city had been falling behind the times. And before restoration, it failed to meet several of the District’s structural regulations.
For instance, an outdated drainage system in the garage made the floors uneven, so that firefighters had to anticipate slopes and dips as they walked to and from their vehicles. The old doors were barely wide enough for a fully outfitted engine to pass through. In a touch of irony, the building lacked what fire safety officials largely call the best defense against blazes: a sprinkler system.
Now, in addition to remedying these issues, the remodeled station boasts an updated watch system where firefighters can see their runs on the computer even before a dispatch comes through, said deputy fire chief Chris Jordan, who oversees DCFD renovations. A new ventilation system filters fumes from the trucks’ exhausts out of the building, whereas before they were just released into the garage. Contractors built a fence around the property, replaced rotting wood floors with concrete, and adjusted the windows to allow more light through.
Adhering to the city’s standards hasn’t made everything easier, however. A stairwell used to run from the second floor, where there are bunks for firefighters working night shifts, directly to the garage, or “apparatus room.” But since the personnel’s living quarters must stay separate from the apparatuses, the stairs have become more roundabout (though I did see four fire poles, which appealed to the 6-year-old inside me).
Also, mandatory lockers have made things more cramped in the garage. In past years, Fulcher said, firefighters would leave their suits on open hooks, since “nobody fucked with anybody’s shit.” But now they must secure their equipment in an island of lockers that takes up a lot of room between the two trucks—space where, Fulcher said, he and his colleagues could play wiffle ball and football in their downtime.
Not that the 56 firefighters at the station have much of it. Calls come in constantly—I saw at least three during my tour alone—and despite the all the clean, newfound niceties, the members of Engine 10/Truck 13 still bust their asses more than most.