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Overnight fire crews are stationed at the firehouse and can respond to emergencies faster.

By DONALD WITTKOWSKI

Looking to respond to fires even faster, Sea Isle City found a way in 2021 for the volunteer firefighters to rush to fires within minutes of receiving emergency calls.

The city began stationing them overnight at the firehouse last summer as part of a hybrid model consisting of volunteers in the day and paid firefighters for the overnight shift.

Although the overnight crews are ready to respond as soon as the alarm sounds, they will be able to get some rest during their down time thanks to plans by the city to convert some space at the fire station into sleeping quarters.

City spokeswoman Katherine Custer said a sleeping area consisting of beds or bunks will be built in a loft that already exists at the station. The loft already includes bathrooms for men and women and meeting space.

“All they need is more room for the beds,” Custer said.

City Council is scheduled at its meeting Tuesday to award a $21,700 contract to William McLees Architecture of Somers Point to design the firehouse renovations. Custer said the project is still in the preliminary stage, but the city will have a better idea how much it will cost and how long it will take to build once McLees completes his work.

“He’ll look at the structure to see what needs to be done,” she said.

The city hopes to begin construction as soon as this winter or spring, she added.

A series of fires between 2017 and 2019 led to a restructuring in the volunteer fire department.

The overnight crews were part of the fire department’s restructuring in 2020 following four separate fires in 2017, 2018 and 2019 that destroyed a total of nine single-family homes or duplexes. One of the fires killed an elderly woman on 54th Street in November 2018.

Some residents called then for Sea Isle to consider switching to a paid fire department instead of relying on volunteers or to improve fire protection and response times in other ways. City officials have repeatedly praised the volunteer firefighters for their service and response times amid changes in the department.

With the overnight crews already stationed at the firehouse, they can respond even faster. Normally, Sea Isle’s volunteer firefighters must drive to the fire station from their homes or jobs after the alarm goes off, a process that adds time for responding to emergencies.

“The demands of our city are also significant, and while we are confident that Sea Isle can continue to be properly served by the volunteer department, establishment of the (overnight) duty crew will provide for optimal protection during our most vulnerable times,” Mayor Leonard Desiderio said in a statement last year.

City Council approved an ordinance in 2021 creating a payment program for volunteer firefighters who are part of the overnight shift. Firefighters are each paid $160 for each night they work, city officials said. Overall, the cost of the program will be capped at $30,000 per month, according to the ordinance.

Firefighters originally began working the overnight shift last summer, a move that bolstered fire safety at a time when the town is crowded with tens of thousands of vacationers. But they have continued with the overnight crews to provide extra fire safety the entire year.

“I’ve only heard good things. It has been a good response,” Custer said of the overnight crews.

Sea Isle is using a hybrid model of volunteer firefighters during the day and paid firefighters overnight.