Wildwood Weighs Island-wide Fire Department

Mayor Ernie Troiano, right, explains reasons for the proposed fire station July 10. Listening is Commissioner Peter Byron. 

WILDWOOD ─ "I don't think you're going to see us (volunteers) around very long," Mayor Ernie Troiano said July 10. 

Under new business, the mayor posed the topic of a centrally located fire station, to serve Five Mile Beach. Troiano remarked how the days of thriving volunteer forces are "numbered" due to societal changes. The station, if approved, would occupy the north parking lot near City Hall. 

Consolidation with other municipal fire departments has also been considered, said Troiano. 

According to the mayor, Holly Beach's volunteer company has six members, including Troiano. A fire engine is no longer stored at Holly Beach and the volunteer stations at Pine and Oak avenues are also "suffering for manpower," said Troiano. 

"You can't put a price tag on safety," he added. 

Discussion of a fire station emerged in June 2018. According to the June 13 resolution, "per a November 2017 inspection and subsequent report by Robbie Conley Architect (RCA) of Woodbury Heights, this new fire station is necessary to address critical deficiencies of the existing station." According to paperwork, the station would measure 24,000 square feet. 

In 2018, Fire Chief Daniel Spiegel said he would "be pleased" for a new station. 

The city applied to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development (USDA) for funding. A resolution was passed in December 2018, which allowed the city to look for grant options, according to Commissioner Peter Byron. 

City Solicitor Mary D'Arcy Bittner said USDA offered Wildwood a $9 million loan, not a grant, with a 30-, 35-, or 40-year option. Bittner said her office waits more specific loan terms. 

Troiano admitted the station may not happen and is not an immediate plan. He said USDA officials told him the $9 million may be kept in reserve until a decision is reached. Troiano said the city can "sit on the money" up to three years, possibly five if USDA approves.

Commissioner Anthony Leonetti said such a station would be a "win-win for the whole island." 

Leonetti agreed that the money should be held in reserve.

"It (station) will happen in the future," Leonetti said. 

In a July 15 phone interview, Leonetti elaborated on the shared services aspect. "Cost savings," according to Leonetti, would benefit North Wildwood and Wildwood Crest. 

However, formal discussions have not been held with North Wildwood or Crest officials, said Leonetti. 

When asked what would happen to the volunteer fire stations, Leonetti said the lots would be sold and added to the tax roll to bring needed revenue. The Holly Beach location might be used for another purpose, Leonetti added. 

Commissioner Peter Byron questioned Troiano regarding the payment on the loan's interest rates. 

"When do the payments begin," asked Byron. 

Troiano replied no payments would be made until the city decides to move forward. If no action is taken, the funds would be removed. 

According to Byron, if the city pays 3% interest on a 30-year loan, taxpayers could see an impact on their bills. If 3% is paid, Byron said, it totals to approximately $240,000 per year. 

"I want what is best for our police and fire," Byron said July 15. "We (Wildwood) have the best response time." 

Byron wished to see the Boardwalk and roads repaired before undertaking a project such as the station. 

North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello said, "I have no comment at this time," adding that no discussions have occurred. 

City Administrator Ronald Simone clarified that North Wildwood and Wildwood share radio dispatch Fire 3. The Borough of West Wildwood also shares the same system. Wildwood Crest was also part of the same service until transitioning to the county’s Central Dispatch. 

When asked for further explanation, Troiano said it is "too early for further comment."

To contact Rachel Rogish, email rrogish@cmcherald.com.

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