The once-white drapes, now a water-stained brown, sag loosely over the dorm window, barely blocking out the bright lights from a 24-hour gas station next door.
In a corner, above one of six neatly made beds, the roof leaks "from a hole so big you can see the sky," letting in a steady stream of water each time it rains.
Falling plaster, roach infestation, cramped conditions, a cantankerous and antiquated heating system--all are part of life at Fire Station 13 in Burbank, a life that men assigned to the station have grown accustomed to over the years.
"People who come in off the street say, 'Man, you guys really live in a shack,' " said Capt. Tracy Pansini of the Burbank Fire Department. "To us, it's home."
And it will be, city officials say, for at least three more weeks.
The firefighters assigned to Station 13 on Buena Vista Street near San Fernando Road were scheduled to move into a newly constructed $1.8-million fire station late last year, said Battalion Chief Gary Sutliff. But first there were construction delays, then during the heavy rains in January, the roof of the new building leaked, causing damage to inside carpet, vinyl wall coverings and drywall.
Now, city officials say, the contractor must replace the entire roof.
City firefighting service will not be affected by the delay, but the men of Station 13 must wait a while longer before they move into their new home, city officials said, a long-needed move that has been eagerly anticipated.
"It's deplorable," Sutliff said of the old station, calling it comparable to living in County Jail. "That kind of environment has an effect on your attitude toward your job performance."
Problems with the new two-story station on Thornton Avenue began surfacing in January. City fire officials tested the roof using water hoses and found no major problems.
But then Mother Nature subjected it to a real test with the first heavy rains of the year. "The effect of the wind coupled with the rain allowed rain to penetrate under the metal roof," Sutliff said.
An independent testing lab hired by the city found that the roof was installed improperly and uncovered "several areas that did not comply with the plans and specifications of the city," Sutliff said.
Vice Mayor George Battey, who worked for more than 40 years in the construction industry, said problems of this sort are not "uncommon on a major construction project."
The timing "was a blessing in disguise," he said. "If the firemen had been in there, it would have been very difficult to come in and execute the repairs."
Initially the contractor, Badger Construction Inc., based in Riverside, offered to repair the roof, an offer the city rejected. "It would have been a Band-Aid," Sutliff said.
The decision to replace the entire roof was "a negotiated resolution of the problem," he said.
"It's not going to cost the city one nickel," Sutliff said, explaining that, under the agreement negotiated, the contractor will pay for the new roof and repairs inside the building.
Badger Construction executives said the faulty roof was installed by a subcontractor who "has acknowledged" the roof's deficiencies. "The most expeditious and complete solution was a replacement of the roof," said General Manager David Schwartz.
Schwartz declined to say how much the roof and repairs to the inside of the building would cost the company.
The new roof is expected to be completed in about three weeks.
In the new station, each firefighter will have his own room while on shift. There is a physical fitness room, a day room for watching television, a recreation room, two telephone rooms, a conference room, and a kitchen that dwarfs the one in the current station.
The new station also has plenty of room for expansion, Sutliff said. There are no women in the Burbank Fire Department now, but the new building has a dorm and other facilities for women who might join in the future.
In the meantime, the firefighters at Station 13 continue to live in accommodations constructed 40 years ago for a department that performed far fewer duties.
Over the years, the condition of the old building has deteriorated "just like the schools in Burbank," and space has dwindled, said firefighter-paramedic Dan Yonan.
While Yonan and the other men at the station said they were disappointed with the delays, they remain firm in their resolve to do their jobs well despite the conditions.
"We just adapt," Yonan said, standing in the dorm.
When it rains, the firefighters sleeping near the leak reposition their beds so they won't get soaked, Yonan said. Because the drapes no longer close with a pull cord, the men hold them shut with duct tape at night to keep out the light from the gas station and mini-mart next door.
And when a rig leaves the station, no matter what the temperature is outside, the men open the windows in the dorm because the exhaust fumes fill the room where they sleep.
"The rig pulls out of here, and there's just haze," Pansini said.
Traditionally, firefighters invite their families to the station on holidays to share a holiday meal, but few want to bring their families to Station 13 because of the station's appearance, the firefighters said. And station visitors, accustomed to seeing the bright shiny firetrucks, are often disappointed when they see the station.
"No matter how hard you work and clean, it just doesn't seem to look any better," said engineer-paramedic Ron Barone, sitting at a table in the station's kitchen.