Shelter remains closed

October 02, 2003|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Waynesboro fire officials are making daily checks on the progress that the New Hope Homeless Shelter is making toward bringing its building up to fire safety codes, Borough Fire Chief Dale Fishack said Wednesday.

"We were there around noon today and there was hardly any progress," Fishack said. "We go in on a daily basis to explain what they should be doing. It's not that we're not willing to help. We've been going out of our way for them."

The shelter, at 25 S. Potomac St. adjacent to the borough's fire hall, was ordered closed Sept. 18 by borough Fire Marshal Jerry Hartman after his most recent inspection showed that the shelter's fire alarm system was not working.


The shelter's 42 residents were put out on the street during Tropical Storm Isabel. Shelter officials had to scramble to find emergency housing for the evicted residents.

The shelter, which opened in April, is run by a volunteer board of directors that has struggled to find financing since the beginning.

Violet Schmid, a local Realtor who heads the board, said she needs $30,000 just to operate the shelter during the winter. That figure does not include the money needed to meet the fire marshal's demands that the building be made safe.

"We're slowly working on it," Schmid said. "We're not trying to fight with the fire department. Jerry Hartman is just trying to do his job. I don't fault him for that. People are calling the building a fire trap, but it's probably the safest building in Waynesboro. This has been a nightmare for me. I don't know when we'll be able to open again."

Fishack said if shelter operators had worked with local fire officials from the beginning, there would not be problems today.

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry approved the blueprints for the shelter, but they weren't followed during construction, Fishack said.

The blueprints called for a ceiling with a one-hour fire rating, but they weren't followed, he said.

Schmid disagreed, saying the state gave the shelter an occupancy permit to open the shelter. "It's hanging on our wall," she said.

Hartman said Wednesday that he first inspected the shelter, housed in a building that was once a garment factory, June 24 and found fire code violations. The shelter was given a deadline to have working smoke detectors, which it met.

Subsequent inspections produced more violations, he said. On Monday, Hartman said he delivered a list of violations to shelter officials that were found by a licensed electrical inspector.

Hartman said the entire building needs a new electrical system.

"It has tons of old wiring," he said.

Hartman said the building itself is sound.

Michele Hutchison, manager of the Sub Station, a restaurant on the corner of West Main and South Potomac streets, put up handwritten signs in her windows saying she supports the Waynesboro Fire Department.

She said the signs are in response to signs put up by shelter residents on the day it closed that said the fire department evicted them from their home. Hutchison said the signs also are in response to criticism that the fire department has been getting in letters to the editor in local newspapers.

"The fire marshal closed the shelter, not the fire department," she said. "People don't understand that there's a difference."

The Herald-Mail Articles