WHERE THERE'S smoke, there's fire.
And in the case of one Roxborough fire station, where there are noxious fumes, there's a major problem. But what that problem is, and how long it will keep the station shuttered, remains a mystery to those close to the issue.
"The Fire Department is reluctant to give us information," said Joe Schulle, president of Local 22 firefighters union. "As far as we've been told, there's no timetable for reopening the station."
The station is Engine Company 66, which has sat unused on Ridge Avenue near Shawmont since Dec. 18, when one of its workers was taken to Roxborough Memorial Hospital after becoming dizzy and light-headed, Schulle said.
Shortly after the incident, the union was told that an investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency turned up higher-than-normal readings of a dozen chemicals not typically used in the process of fighting fires.
"Stuff like chloromethane, names that are tough to even say," Schulle said. "We've seen carbon monoxide at stations before, but never this stuff, to my knowledge."
Schulle requested a copy of the EPA's report to find the exact source of the chemicals, among other information he says is vital to union members. As of last night, he's had no luck - even after filing a Right-to-Know request with the Fire Department.
"We want to know what exactly our members were exposed to and for how long," he said. "If a specific medical protocol is required, we shouldn't have to wait to seek it out."
Capt. Clifford Gilliam, a spokesman for the Fire Department, had no additional information on the station, saying only that it remains out of service and that a "remediation solution" for the fumes is still being developed.
In the meantime, Roxborough residents are worried of the dangers posed by a drop in the neighborhood's firefighting capabilities.
"We have lots of little places tucked away. Getting to them in best of circumstances is difficult," said Rich Giordano, vice president of the Upper Roxborough Civic Association. "Add inclement weather and a slower response time, and you have an even larger impact."
With Engine Company 66 out of commission, the closest fire-response crew is Company 12, on Main Street in Manayunk. Engine 39, on Ridge Avenue near Cinnaminson Street, is closer, but has only a ladder-rescue crew, Schulle said.
That means that in some of the more remote areas normally covered by Company 66 - homes near the city's northwestern border - response time to a fire may exceed the industry standard of four minutes, Schulle said.
"Closing the station doesn't affect just that isolated area; it affects everyone," Giordano said. "I don't know that we've ever had anything tragic come out of this, but it only takes one example."