By Donald Wittkowski
No one could possibly save this decrepit building now. Not even the firefighters who once occupied it.
A last look inside the old Sea Isle City firehouse on the eve of its demolition revealed a badly deteriorated building of crumbling walls, peeling paint, rusty pipes, moldy cardboard boxes and piles of junk.
Few things remain in the two-story structure on West Jersey Avenue emblematic of its once-proud firefighting history and its formerly indispensable role in the city’s public safety.
Some creaky folding chairs that were left behind are stamped with the initials “SICFD,” for Sea Isle City Fire Department. The fire trucks and anything else of significance attached to the SICFD are long gone.
On Tuesday morning, a demolition contractor is scheduled to tear down the approximately 100-year-old building. City officials said the firehouse dates to the early 1900s, but did not know the year it opened.
The firehouse fell into disrepair over the years, so city officials decided it was beyond saving. City Council awarded a $37,000 demolition contract in April to Transformation Enterprises Inc. of Egg Harbor City.
Crews from Transformation Enterprises arrived at the site Monday to begin preparing for demolition. Tom Edwards, the company owner, said he will start tearing down the building around 8-9 a.m. Tuesday.
Although the firehouse will be demolished, the property could be redeveloped for another public purpose. Sea Isle’s updated master plan recommends converting the site into some type of public recreation.
The firehouse’s location is adjacent to a playground and basketball courts on John F. Kennedy Boulevard. The city plans to retain ownership of the site after the building is gone.
“Once the lot is cleared, it will still remain a city parcel. It will not be sold,” city spokeswoman Katherine Custer said in April. “No announcement has yet been made regarding what the parcel will become.”
Once a major part of the community, the firehouse faded in importance in the past 40 years. In 1978, it was replaced by a new public safety building on JFK Boulevard that housed the police and fire departments. Then in 2015, Sea Isle’s new City Hall became the headquarters for the fire department.
Sea Isle’s Tourism Office moved into the old firehouse in 1993 and made the building its home until it shifted operations into the city’s new Welcome Center in 2012. Afterward, the old building was used for storage by the city’s Public Works Department and the Beach Patrol, Custer said.
During a walk through the firehouse Monday, piles of junk, folding tables, boxes, broken wood, torn-up carpets, chunks of wallboard and other debris made parts of the building look like a makeshift dumping ground.
Among the odds and ends on the first floor was a handwritten sign commemorating the 100th anniversary of Sea Isle’s old City Hall in 2006. Old City Hall was ruined by flooding from Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and was replaced three years later by the new City Hall.
An old refrigerator, stove and kitchen cabinet are part of the remnants on the firehouse’s second floor. The ceiling and walls are pockmarked by peeling paint.
Amid all of the clutter on the second floor, though, was a gleaming silver cup, conspicuously placed on a countertop, apparently as a symbolic tribute to the old firehouse.