By Jay Cook |
HOLMDEL – Any talk about the future of Holmdel Fire Company #1 was doused last month after the defunct independent company officially sold its longstanding southern Holmdel headquarters.
On July 14, Holmdel Fire Company #1 president Michael Keating signed off on the sale of the one-story building at 35 West Main St. for $850,000 to Everett Cruz, president of JRCruz Corp., according to public Monmouth County tax records.
The sale officially marks the end of an era for Holmdel Fire Company #1. After serving the Holmdel Village section for 97 years, the station shuttered in 2014. Concerns from Holmdel’s governing body over response times and a lack of mandated training led to the company’s closing.
Selling the property after the 2014 closure was “on our plate as one of our items,” said James Dunne, vice president of Holmdel Fire Company #1.
The organization has obtained 501c4 status to try and serve Holmdel in another manner, Dunne said.
“We’re a tax-exempt organization looking to go into a different direction, as far as being a fire company,” said Dunne, a 37-year member. “We can’t fight fires anymore, but we are looking to go into some philanthropic ventures.”
JRCruz Corp., the new property owner, is a large-scale highway contracting company working in New York City. In 2016, the business paid $2.1 million to buy the vacant Bank of America building next door to the firehouse, at 33 West Main St., to serve its new headquarters. Construction to renovate that entire office building is currently underway.
Cruz, the contracting company’s president, said this week he was the “only practical buyer” of the Holmdel Fire Company #1 firehouse, considering he is already one of its two neighbors – the other being Cracked Olive Market.
Cruz, a Holmdel native, said the firehouse will serve as a staging area for the work being done to his new headquarters. He said there may or may not be any future changes to the firehouse building – any of that talk is “down the road,” he continued.
Currently, the only existing fire department in Holmdel is Holmdel Fire & Rescue Company #2. The company, with over 50 active members, has two locations in town: one at 11 Centerville Road, and the other at 20 Crawfords Corner Road. A third location existed until recently, where a truck from the Crawfords Corner location was housed in a garage on the Vonage campus in the Holmdel Village section.
While Holmdel Fire & Rescue Company #2 has been servicing the entirety of Holmdel since 2014, a lease to house a fire truck at 35 West Main St. is currently pending township approval.
According to the lease agreement, which would be between Cruz and Holmdel, Cruz would lease out two of the four southeastern-most garage bays to the township for any fire or first aid-related services. If signed, the lease only stipulates a one-year agreement.
At the Aug. 8 Holmdel Township Committee meeting, elected officials unanimously voted to table the lease discussion until its next September meeting.
Holmdel Committeeman Mike Nikolis said there’s no reason to resurrect any first responder activity at the 35 West Main St. firehouse under the lease’s current terms.
“My vote would be no,” Nikolis said. “I don’t support putting any fire apparatus in that location without the manpower to support it.”
Nikolis, president of Holmdel First Aid and a Holmdel Fire & Rescue Company #2 founding member, said he saw other flaws in the lease agreement. According to the document, made public by Holmdel, Cruz would not allow any alterations to the air conditioning, sprinkler systems, television or radio antennas, heavy equipment, or fixtures of the building.
Nikolis said he also had issue with building security, as the property owner would have 24/7 access to the facility.
“If you can’t secure that location, I have a problem with that,” he said.
Concerns of reliable fire service in the southern section of Holmdel have grown after Holmdel Fire Company #1’s closure. Days before Christmas in 2015, a fire fully engulfed and destroyed a house under construction on Hop Brook Lane, about a half mile from the closed firehouse.
Residents in the area surrounding Holmdel Road have brought concerns to the township about the lack of an active firehouse with a potential New Jersey Natural Gas project in the works.
Although still waiting for approval from the Office of Administrative Law and state Board of Public Utilities, the project would be a three-stack gas regulator, used for reducing gas pressure between the existing transmission line to local distribution lines.
At a public hearing about the project on June 8, residents specifically noted there was no longer an active firehouse in reasonable vicinity to the project.
Speaking about Holmdel Fire & Rescue Company #2, Nikolis said the company’s two locations “are more than capable of covering the entire town.”
“I have full confidence in them,” Nikolis added. “They’re around, and they train.”
This article was first published in the Aug. 17-24, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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