By NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY
VENTNOR – The fog gently lifted as members of the Wayland family made their way to the front of Fire Station No. 2 on Wellington Avenue Saturday afternoon.
The members of the Ventnor City Fire Department, Board of Commissioners and city employees involved in the new firehouse’s construction gathered at noon Dec. 12 to cut the ribbon and rededicate the building to Firefighter Kenny Wayland, who died at age 35 fighting a fire at a beachfront high rise on Dec. 15, 1972.
Wayland was searching for an occupant on the fourth floor and was unable to exit the apartment. With no way out, he was forced out a window, where he could not hold on any longer. He was forced to jump and was tragically injured. He died of massive head injuries five days later.
Members of the Ventnor City Firefighters FMBA Local 38 memorialize his sacrifice by holding the annual Kenny Wayland Memorial Run, which provides scholarships for high school students. To date, more than $65,000 has been awarded to more than 80 Ventnor City students.
Kenny’s sister Alice, said she was overwhelmed that the city chose to again dedicate the new firehouse in his name.
“These guys are wonderful for all the things they’ve done to honor my brother,” she said. “I’m sure he is looking down on everyone today.”
Ventnor Fire Chief Michael Cahill coordinated the ribbon cutting ceremony, which due to a spike in COVID-19 infections, was smaller than city officials would have liked. Tours of the building were not permitted.
The red T-111 clad firehouse that stood on the site was built the year Wayland died and was meant to be a temporary structure that would last about 15 years, Cahill said. It lasted much longer, but by 2018, the building no longer met National Fire Protection Association and Federal Emergency Management Agency regulations for critical infrastructure buildings. In a tour of the building that year, Cahill called it “the forgotten stepchild of Ventnor,” and demonstrated how stormwater poured through the rotted walls.
The old firehouse was built to accommodate one firefighter and one apparatus, which at that time was about 20% smaller than today’s vehicles, Cahill said.
The city had considered spending taxpayer dollars to rehabilitate the old structure, but it was obvious that the building was beyond repair.
The city issued bonds to cover the cost of new construction and awarded a $3.17 million contract to Fabbri Builders, Inc. of Vineland, which was the lowest of 11 bidders. Following the old building’s demolition, firefighters worked out of a temporary fabric building two blocks away.
The new design compliments other historic buildings in Ventnor and is one of the first things visitors see as they enter the city via West End/Wellington Avenue. The pre-cast concrete structure will last 100 years and withstand a 500-year storm, as per FEMA standards. It will serve as a place to house firefighters and residents during public emergencies.
The two-story building accommodates all the needed fire and rescue apparatus, has living space for firefighters, including a kitchen, dorm, office and training room.
Mayor Beth Holtzman thanked Administrator Maria Mento, Public Works Supervisor Ed Stinson and Cahill for being on the scene every day during the building project.
“I was here every day,” Cahill said. “And I know Fabbri Builders was not always happy about that.”
“I personally feel he has been the best fire chief the city of Ventnor has ever had,” Holtzman said.
Commissioner of Public Safety and Community Affairs Tim Kriebel said it was a team effort to build the firehouse, and building a team is just as difficult as building a building.
“Things don’t go smoothly during construction. But when you have the right team in place, you sand off all those hard edges,” he said.
It took six months to design the building and a little over a year to build it. The project came in on time and on budget.
Kriebel said the building was financed “conservatively, so it doesn’t impact the taxpayers.”
Commissioner Lance Landgraf said the sturdy concrete building “is not going anywhere. This is where I’m coming to stay if there’s an issue,” he said.
Landgraf said he hopes the building lives up to the sacrifices made by the Wayland family.
There are only nine members of the current VCFD who were born when Wayland was killed, Cahill said.
“The department has never forgotten our fallen brother,” he said. “We hope this is not a sad day of remembrance. It is a day to celebrate the memory of a hero who was taken too soon.”
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