By Bill Kirk
---- — METHUEN — Four firefighters sleeping in the East End station at the skewed intersection of East and Swan streets were jarred awake early yesterday morning when a Mercedes SUV slammed head-on into the building.
The driver, who was seriously injured, was pinned inside his mangled car and the entire left side of the building was pushed off the foundation as a result of the 3 a.m. crash, said Fire Chief Steven Buote.
Jose Almonte, 42, of Methuen, was taken to Lawrence General Hospital. His condition was unavailable last night but Buote said he may be transferred to a Boston hospital. He said he heard that Almonte may have a broken pelvis, possibly caused by his seat belt. Police said Almonte will be summonsed for driving while under the influence of liquor and a marked lanes violation.
“He has significant injuries,” Buote said. No firefighters were injured, he added, but they were “rattled” by the sound and impact of the crash.
The accident is just the latest in a long line of incidents at the station, according to the chief.
“That building has been hit many times,” he said. A utility pole out front has been replaced at least a dozen times. The fire station doors have been damaged. Other vehicles have passed right across the driveway of the station and ended up in an adjacent gas station. Firefighters’ cars, which are parked behind the building, have been struck. Even firefighters sitting outside have had some close-calls.
Because of the poor location and the age and small size of the building - it was built in 1918 for much smaller trucks - a study completed five years ago concluded that a new station be built elsewhere in the city. Due to the $4 million pricetag, however, that recommendation was shelved.
Now, however, there may be a fresh argument for replacement. Buote said the accident caused “severe structural damage.”
He said the Mercedes SUV slammed head-on into the left side of the building, which is one of the main supporting walls of the structure. It pushed the wall off the foundation and wrecked the garage door, just barely missing the fire engine parked inside, which was covered with glass but otherwise unscathed.
“The front left corner of the building is completely destroyed and that supports the front and left side of the building and the roof,” he said. “Half of the entire length of the left wall is all buckled and cracked. That wall is two or three bricks thick, and there are places where you can now see daylight through the wall.”
Yesterday, the building inspector checked out the building and determined that while firefighters could still sleep there - four of them are typically quartered in the back portion of the structure - and one truck could stay in the building, the left side of the building had to be shored up. A contractor worked throughout the day to build a temporary supporting wall to keep the building from falling down.
“It’s going to be a major structural repair,” he said, although he couldn’t estimate the cost. The left-side bay will remain unused until it can be repaired. He said the driver of the car was actually lucky, in a way. While the central fire station is undergoing $100,000 in repairs to the cement floor, which has been weakened by years of water dripping on the deck and rusting out the re-bar, the Rescue Squad truck has been kept at the East End station.
When Almonte drove his car into the building, firefighters were able to quickly grab the Jaws of Life, which are kept in the rescue vehicle, and go to work to rip the door off while paramedics treated him at the scene. They were then able to transport him to the hospital.
“They pulled the truck right out, got the Jaws, and got to work,” he said. “They were treating the driver and cutting the car apart.”
Now that the East End station can only hold one piece of fire apparatus, the rescue truck will be parked outside at the central station until the repairs at central station are complete, scheduled for some time later this week. Buote said he is continuing to assess what else was damaged in the accident, but said some other equipment inside the station may also have been affected.
“There could be damage to the building’s components,” he said. “A water supply pipe was snapped off. Electronics mounted to that wall may have to repaired and replaced.”
The exhaust system used to pipe carbon monoxide out of the building while the trucks are running may also have been damaged.