Meeting set on fire station

FI-greenwich-town-sealThe potential construction of a fire station in northwest Greenwich has been a topic of fervent debate for more than a decade. With just as many detractors as supporters of the project, the discussion about the need for a new fire station to date has been characterized by acute inertia.

First Selectman Peter Tesei is committed to ending this indecision and reaching a definitive answer on this question with a meeting set for Jan. 30 at 7 p.m. At the Board of Selectmen meeting on Jan. 9, Mr. Tesei firmly declared that the push-and-pull had to come to a close.

“I believe once and for all, the citizens of this town, particularly those who live in northwest Greenwich, deserve a definitive answer as to whether or not the boards will fund an additional fire station,” said Mr. Tesei.

He called for town citizens to attend the meeting, which will be held at Greenwich Library’s Cole Auditorium on Jan. 30. At this meeting, the town’s Fire Department will present a service plan and staffing model to the community. Though the construction of the station would directly affect residents of backcountry Greenwich, Mr. Tesei said that this is an issue relevant to all town residents.

“This is really critically important, and I hope we can get as much attendance as possible,” said Mr. Tesei. “It’s not just geared to those who live in the northwest Greenwich area, but it’s really meant for everybody, because its interrelated.”

Some of the issues plaguing the northwest fire station plan have been apprehension regarding the proposed location and questions regarding the equitability of fire response throughout town. Despite ongoing discussion with the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET), which has involved multiple rounds of staffing plan drafts over the past eight years, there has been no resolution thus far.

This time around, the BET is looking for a comprehensive master plan, in order to fully consider budget development for the new fiscal year beginning July 1 and running through June 30, 2015.

“It’s a question of how we formulate this plan: offering coverage across an even basis across town, staying aware of financial parameters. It’s time to start formulatling this big, overall picture,” said BET Chairman Michael Mason.

In considering the Northwest fire station proposal, Mr. Mason cited the example of the Glenville fire station, which beefed up its staffing in July 2012 by doubling the number of on-call career firefighters. This change brought about several benefits, including enabling Glenville to become its own response area, and dramatically reducing response time to both the Glenville area and Northwest Greenwich. Mr. Mason states that this information will inevitably play a part in the discussion for a new Northwest fire station.

In response, Mr. Tesei has asked the Fire Department to present the material in a carefully presented format, that would “capture the essence of what people want to see, and present it globally to the community at large.” Following the presentation, Fire Department Chief Peter Siecienski and Assistant Chief Robert Kick will field any questions residents may have. They hope to see members of the community get involved in the meeting.

“We’re just hoping to get a good turnout, and to get the message out to everybody. We hope to see people that are interested in the services that we deliver and in improving them,” said Mr. Kick.

At the presentation, the Fire Department is expected to discuss the reasons for building a northwest fire station, an argument that focuses on ensuring full, immediate coverage to residents not just exclusively in backcountry but throughout town. The lack of a station in the area has been an ongoing source of concern and frustration among backcountry residents as well as with the Board of Selectmen. All three members of the board have advocated for the station and made their feelings clear about it at the Jan. 9 meeting.

Currently, in order to meet the National Fire Protection Agency’s standards, which mandate having four firefighters respond to every call, the Fire Department sends out two fire companies. This dual-engine response is ridden with some obvious risky issues, largely related to travel distance.

Mr. Tesei said that as a result, insurance companies have been heavy-handed in raising property and casualty rates in northwest Greenwich because of the distance to the nearest station and response time. A fire station in the area would provide full coverage, instead of a potentially hazardous bifurcated response.

“You want to get out of the habit of having firefighters coming from one end of town to another, when there are better alternatives, because this is a serious safety risk,” said Selectman Drew Marzullo, a longtime medic for Greenwich Emergency Medical Services.

Mr. Tesei reinforced the consequences of these barriers to obtaining property casualty insurance, which then inherently affects the value of property in backcountry.

“Would I be less inclined to live in an area where I’m going to pay higher rates of insurance and perhaps affect my family’s well-being because there’s not adequate fire coverage? Sure,” said Mr. Tesei. “I think we have to look at this in a holistic fashion, in that it ensures value in Greenwich. Life safety is the primary concern.”

Mr. Tesei said that once the metrics have been clearly presented this month, the expectation is a complete and definitive answer from the BET. Mr. Marzullo echoed Mr. Tesei’s sentiments, emphasizing the necessity for an end to the indecision.

“There is going to be an expectation to act, and to come out with an opinion. The various governing bodies have to take a stance. After Jan. 30, when the plan is laid out, a decision has to be made,” said Mr. Marzullo.

The town selectmen stressed the relevance of the decision to the community at large. The fire station would indeed directly serve the backcountry area, but it would also ensure the effectiveness of the other fire stations in town.

“The fire station is being put there so that other firefighters in the area will be able to fight fire in a safe manner,” said Mr. Marzullo. “So Jan. 30 will be an informative exercise. Yes, it’s about the placement of a fire station in backcountry, but it affects firefighting throughout the town of Greenwich.”

At the upcoming meeting, the selectmen are hoping for as much community participation as possible. Whether the need for a northwest fire station will be realized is yet to be seen; regardless, Mr. Tesei and his team seek a final answer.

“My belief is that, when you look at where we are today, with the exception of northwest Greenwich, the town has a fairly stable response coverage,” said Mr. Tesei. “Personally speaking, I see it as a necessity. I get passionate about few things, but this is what I feel very strongly about. It means a lot to me, because it means people’s lives.”

 

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