GARY — City leaders expect a modern new fire station to rise this coming year in the Glen Park neighborhood, despite doubts about the future of the fire department as a whole.
Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson and Councilwoman LaVetta Sparks-Wade, D-6th, were among a officials who broke ground near 49th and Pennsylvania Street for construction of $2.8 million facility.
It will replace Station 5, which has been closed since 2012. Its crew has been housed in a section of the Calumet Township Multipurpose Center, 1900 W. 41st Ave., a homeless center run by Township Trustee Kim Robinson.
"It is long awaited, but will be greatly appreciated when we see the final product. We first worked on the refurbishing 5th District fire station near 41st and Broadway for some time. When we determined it couldn't be done, we chose this site, donated by the school corporation," the mayor said.
About a dozen young firefighters were on hand for the ceremony. The mayor celebrated them.
"What brings that structure to life are the men and women of the Gary Fire Department."
The Fire Department's staff of 163 firefighters and 13 paramedics must cover the city's 52 square miles and beyond. They have responded to more than 5,200 fire calls and more than 13,000 requests for emergency medical services service calls since Nov. 30.
The department's website lists 14 fire stations, but a 2009 Gary financial assessment report stated too many stations were obsolete, in disrepair and in need of significant renovation.
Fire Capt. John Leslie Jr., president of the firefighters union, recent complained publicly about firefighters being overworked at scenes due to lack of manpower that could get worse in the coming years as more veterans retire and the city struggles to retain new hires who leave for better pay in other communities.
The mayor is proposing budget cuts for most departments in 2019 — including public safety — as part of a long-term plan to put city government on more stable, financial footing.
The new station will be built on the site of the old Pittman Elementary School. It is being financed with a loan from the U.S. Department Housing and Urban Development. It is being designed by Martin Riley of Fort Wayne and built by Hasse Construction of Calumet City.