Wheeling Firefighters Will Back Public Safety Building Levy in November

Photo by Joselyn King Wheeling Fire Department engineer and paramedic Tom Haluscak, president of International Association of Fire Fighters Local 12, speaks about the $20 million public safety levy that will go before voters on Nov. 6.

WHEELING — Firefighters announced Wednesday they will support a public safety levy that will go before Wheeling voters in the Nov. 6 election.

The endorsement of the firefighters, members of International Association of Fire Fighters Local 12, hadn’t been guaranteed. While the levy would provide the funds for construction of a new, $20 million fire and police headquarters on Market Street across from Market Plaza, the firefighters had wanted upgrades to other stations in city and a new fire truck, according to Wheeling Fire Department engineer and paramedic Tom Haluscak, president of IAFF Local 12.

He said last week Mayor Glenn Elliott, Vice Mayor Chad Thalman and City Manager Robert Herron sat down with the firefighters for about an hour of discussion regarding the levy. In the end, the firefighters were satisfied that needed improvements would be made to fire stations if the levy passes, and the Warwood station would get a new fire truck.

Haluscak said upgrades for police and fire spaces are long overdue.

“From a police standpoint, I know they are definitely undersized,” he said.

“With our headquarters, conditions there are becoming a lot worse — along with our other stations.

“This levy would not just build a new police and fire headquarters, it would renovate our existing stations along with getting a fire truck on top of our CDBG fire truck” that would be paid for through Community Development Block Grant funds.

Haluscak said it is likely some firefighters will voluntarily go out and campaign for the levy, but not while in uniform. He explained that state law prohibits them from campaigning while wearing their job-related gear and from using the fire trucks and equipment for that purpose.

Haluscak acknowledged the levy won’t be an easy sell to voters.

“We are increasing taxes,” he said. “The majority of our members are residents of Wheeling, so they will have to incur that cost, too. It is just a small amount of money (for a property owner) that will go a long way for us. Not only for us, but for their (the public’s) safety as well.”

The proposed levy would cost a city homeowner an extra $105 each year on average, according to City Manager Robert Herron. The building, as designed, would consist of three floors and 56,725 square feet. The fire department would be allocated 24,510 square feet, and the police department 18,770 square feet. The remaining 13,445 square feet would be shared space. The proposed levy as written also would seek an additional $1 million for renovations to the city’s five remaining fire stations, and another $500,000 for a fire truck.

Under the levy, the stations would be made compliant under the standards of the National Fire Protection Association, according to Haluscak. Trucks would be in a more central location and could respond to incidents more quickly.

Under the proposed plan, the fire department headquarters near Centre Market and Fire Station 2 at 801 Main St. in North Wheeling would be combined in the new building. The current headquarters on Market Street would become retail space, while Station 2 would be sold, according to firefighter Robert Heldreth, vice president of IAFF Local 12.

The city’s other fire stations are located in South Wheeling, Warwood, Elm Grove, Woodsdale and on Wheeling Island.

“Many people might not know that our firefighters are responsible for the majority of repairs to the city’s firehouses, from basic electrical and plumbing repairs to patching roofs and installing cabinetry,” he said. “Our members take pride in keeping our firehouses running. But with so much aging infrastructure, we have reached a point where basic repairs are no longer enough. Roofs, HVAC systems, driveways and windows are failing. Money budgeted for repairs isn’t enough to keep our firehouses running.”

With this bond, each of the stations has been assessed and will be getting necessary repairs totaling $1 million, according to Heldreth.

“The current headquarters has deteriorated over the last 40 years,” he said. “The building leaks every time it rains. Rain water filters through the filth on the decks of the parking garage into our living space.

“The new building will meet NFPA standards with areas for biohazard decontamination and separation between our living space and storage for gear and equipment that is contaminated with the byproducts of fire and carcinogens.”

The proposed public safety building would include more space for specialized equipment, according to Heldreth.