Town hall vote worries fire department
By Lucia Suarez
STAFF WRITER | October 12,2012
Vyto Starinskas / Staff Photo
This Castleton fire truck barely has room to maneuver as it exits the fire station on Elm Street in Castleton.
CASTLETON — The fire department needs a new station and with the $1.2 million town hall renovation bond vote looming, members of the department are concerned they will not get a new building anytime soon.
“It’s less and less likely that a second bond will pass (for the fire department), especially if there is a renovation cost overrun and I personally believe there will be,” firefighter Michael Finnegan said recently. “The sequence of how it will be is people are going to be angry and that anger will not get a bond for us.”
Richard Combs, the first assistant chief, said, “It’s a safe statement to say that people don’t know about the situation of the buildings.”
The Castleton fire station — located on Elm Street, a side road of Main Street — consists of two old buildings that Combs and other firefighters say are very old and falling apart. They were originally built as the town’s garages — one of them around World War II — before they were taken over by the fire department.
As the department modernized, the equipment became larger, making the building not big or safe enough, firefighters said. Seven trucks are parked in the two buildings with less than a foot of space between each for firefighters to move around.
“When the trucks are rolling and people are putting gear on, it’s dangerous,” Combs said. “It’s a little too tight in here.”
To fit seven trucks into the buildings, the fire department has least one person guiding the driver so he does not hit the walls or any other truck when backing up.
The buildings themselves have deteriorated to a point where portions have been closed off.
“This building speaks for itself,” Finnegan said of the old, unheated Quonset hut, which resembles an airplane hangar.
The second floor is off-limits. “People can go through the floor,” he said.
The fire department has contemplated renovating the two buildings, Combs said, but regulations would require heating and drive-through access for fire trucks.
The location of the fire department is the main reason for the department’s desire for a new building.
“Even if they added to this (fire station), it would still be in the wrong place,” Combs said.
He said the majority of their fire calls are to respond near the Four Corners — about 1.8 miles from the current location — or farther away from the village. He said visibility onto Main Street is poor and potentially dangerous because of foot traffic.
“Ninety percent of the time we go out and take a left,” Combs said. “There is nothing worse than to stand at a fire waiting for the trucks to arrive...”
He added, “The only downside I can see is slower response to the college. It’s not in the best interest of the town to leave it here because of the college.”
High-ranking members of the fire department supported a measure earlier this year for a $2 million office building that would have included the police department and the fire station on Route 4A. Voters overwhelmingly rejected that bond on Town Meeting Day.
A trimmed-down bond for $1.2 million to renovate the town hall — but not the fire department — will be voted on Nov. 6.
Finnegan said the fire department is not trying to sway anyone when it comes to the town office bond vote. But it wants to make sure residents understand the problems plaguing the department’s infrastructure.
He said if the town office bond vote passes next month, voters will be less willing to bond for another $1 million or more for a new fire department.
Jeremy Waite, the second assistant chief, said the department’s main concern is safety — for the town and the members. No one has been injured as the trucks go out, but that is always a possibility.
“We need to have the infrastructure to help the town,” Waite said.