Dead rats haunt cramped Somerville firehouse

by Tom Nash on April 8, 2010


[This story, written by Tom Nash, originally appeared in The Somerville News on April 8, 2010]

Nearly 12 years after a flood forced firefighters into a trailer adjacent to the Union Square firehouse, sharing living space with rodents had become a fact of life there.

It was when the rodents crawled into the ceiling and died that the situation became unbearable.

Sitting in temporary headquarters at the department’s 266 Broadway station, Deputy Chief David Salvi recalled the scene when city workers arrived to clean out the trailer after the Board of Health ordered it closed on March 24.
“The (workers) pushed up the ceiling tiles and insulation, and they refused to go any further,” Salvi said. “They found dung and dead rodents.”A rumor circulated last week that either a Board of Health inspector or a civilian had been overpowered by the smell, to the point of vomiting. Neither the city nor Fire Chief Kevin Kelleher could confirm the rumor, and Kelleher said the rodent issue was isolated to the past few months.Somerville Firefighters Local 76 President Jay Colbert didn’t provide a precise date when the rodent infestation started, but said the rodent issue had become commonplace in the trailer, which he added was only meant as a temporary solution to the 1998 flood.

“(The trailer) has become a full-time firehouse for 16 men and women,” Colbert said. “It’s pretty cramped quarters. The last couple of years, it’s become rodent infested, (with) rancid, rancid smells in the walls.”

“Something died at least three times,” Salvi said. “We (were given) three industrial strength fans.”

When not dealing with the dead rodents, Salvi said the department found ways to have a sense of humor about the conditions, such as giving one especially sociable rat a name – Bart.

Bart’s bed, according to another firefighter, was underneath the trailer. Bart would enter through a service hatch, which they referred to as his door.

Chief Kelleher, while acknowledging Bart’s existence, maintained the trailer had “outlived its usefulness” only two months ago, and that steps had been taken previously to combat rodent infestation.

Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone said the Board of Health closure showed the city responded quickly when the trailer became a health issue, and that one of his goals has been to bring the Fire Prevention Bureau into the same DPW location as the city’s other inspectors.

“Twelve years is a significant period of time,” Curtatone said, “but during that period the facility has been stable. We are working on finding a long-term home, but the trailer has been adequate for what they need to do.”

Engine 3 has also been re-located to the fire station at Lowell Street since the Board of Health closure, a situation Colbert said is hindering the department’s ability to service both Union Square and East Somerville.

Kelleher said the department is working to get Engine 3 back at the Union Square location, noting that the city’s long-term goal is to build a new firehouse.

Curtatone said a new fire station would be “a major piece of the Union Square development” that would come with the Green Line ‘T’ stop, but that in the meantime rebuilding of the East Somerville Community School has taken priority.

The trailer’s fate remains unclear. Kelleher said the city has removed its insulation and is currently working on its ceiling in an effort to refurbish it.

“I don’t think anyone who has worked in the city the past 12 years is happy with the situation,” he said.

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