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Finance Committee Chairman Charles Fox, left, introduces a special meeting to discuss plans for a new fire station with Prudential Committee members John Notsley, from left, Edward McGowan and Edward Briggs.

Williamstown Fire District Defends Need For New Station

By Stephen DravisSpecial to iBerkshires
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Prudential Committee Chairman John Notsley vigorously defended the need for a new fire station.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — In front of a standing-room crowd at Town Hall, the officials responsible for the town's fire department on Thursday night made their case for a new station.

The firefighters fired back at those who questioned whether taxpayers should be asked to fund a new station while several other capital projects loom in the town.

John Notsley of the Prudential Committee, which oversees the Fire District, cited a study by a Connecticut construction management firm that said the 1951 structure "could be jeopardizing the rescue process."

He also dismissed estimates of $25 million quoted by Finance Committee Chairman Charles Fox, saying it was unlikely to exceed $9 million.

"I don't know where Charlie got $25 million," Notsley said.

"Apparently, it was an error," Fox interjected.

Notsley, Edward Briggs and Edward McGowan from the Prudential Committee and Fire Chief Craig Pedercini had been invited to a special forum hosted by the Finance Committee and moderated by Fox.

In an interview on Monday, Fox suggested that while the current fire station may be inadequate, the town might ultimately decide the department's need is not as dire as the needs for a new police station or high school – two other big-ticket items that are being weighed.

Fox also said the independent Fire District could move ahead with plans for a new station without input from very many citizens. Annual Fire District meetings – unlike town meeting – typically draw only several dozen voters.

Notsley dismissed the latter criticism

"In 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 [the Fire District's study] was in the Town Report," he said. "If you didn't read it, tough.

"Our meetings are posted at Town Hall. We've never had an executive session. Charlie made a big deal about the fact that no one shows up at our annual meeting. We think it's because we're doing a good job."

Pedercini took the lead in explaining the inadequacies in the current fire station on Water Street, using a PowerPoint presentation to show how the lack of space inside and outside the building impedes the department.

The current one-story fire station has 4,325 square feet of space on a 1/3-acre lot. It lacks sufficient parking for the town's volunteer force, space for training or room for a vital piece of equipment the town lacks: a tanker truck.

"We've always wanted a tanker truck so we can respond to your house if you live outside the area served by hydrants," Pedercini said. "Our biggest trucks carry 1,000 gallons [of water] each."

Williamstown Fire Chief Craig Pedercini discusses the need for a new fire station in town at Thursday's special meeting of the Finance Committee.
A tanker truck typically carries 3,000 gallons, Briggs said.

"A fire doubles in size every 30 seconds," he said. "This past year, there were three situations (in town) where a tank truck would have saved the day. ... That's one of our key concerns, no doubt, the need for a tanker truck."

A new station would make the needed equipment possible. But the 1,320 square-foot apparatus bay at the current station is inadequate even for the four trucks the department currently has, Pedercini said.

"We're very, very tight in there," he said.

Pedercini showed slides that demonstrated how firefighters need to don gear alongside trucks that are being moved out of the bay. It's is an unsafe situation that hinders response time, he said.

"One of the concerns we've always had is making sure a truck doesn't roll with anyone standing there," he said.

"The building was built in the 1950s," he said. "Things have changed."

And fire trucks have gotten bigger.

On the advice of the New Britain, Conn.,-based Maguire Group, which has a track record in designing emergency response facilities, the Fire District is looking to build a 20,000 square-foot, two-story station on 3.7 acres on Main Street owned by the estate of Kurt Lehovec, who died in February.

Although the meeting was generally cordial, the proposed site for the new station was a flashpoint.

During the Q&A after Pedercini's presentation, Fox asked the Prudential Committee whether the Lehovec property is the best location for a new station, suggesting that the former PhoTech Mill site, might be a better choice.

"I know you wanted that land," Notsley said to Fox, a real estate developer. "I know you went out to California and talked to Kurt Lehovec after we were negotiating with him.

"I think there's a little bit of a conflict of interest. Not a little bit – a lot."

Notsley and Pedercini both argued that the Lehovec site was the best among several that the Fire District considered acquiring. The chief argument against the PhoTech site is that it would require responding firefighters and trucks to race up and down Cole Avenue, an area often filled with children, Notsley said.

The Fire District currently is in negotiation with the Lehovec estate, Notsley said. If a deal can be reached, it likely would call a special meeting in advance of its annual meeting in the spring to approve funds for the purchase.

Fox framed Thursday's forum as part of a planned long-term dialogue about the town's needs, and he said the Finance Committee hopes in the future to host additional meetings to address specific projects such as the police station and Mount Greylock Regional High School.

Tags: capital projects,   Finance Committee,   fire station,   prudential committee,   

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