Greenwich breaks ground on new central fire station

From left, Peter Tesei, Joe Piazza, Amy Siebert and Fire Chief Peter Siecienski dig in. —John Ferris Robben

From left, Peter Tesei, Joe Piazza, Amy Siebert and Fire Chief Peter Siecienski dig in. —John Ferris Robben

“It has been a long road to get to where we are today.”

Those were the words of First Selectman Peter Tesei in the minutes before the ceremonial shovels were put to work and ground was symbolically broken on the site of the new central fire station off  Greenwich Avenue after decades of work to make it a reality. The project has been so long in the making that fire Chief Peter Siecienski told the Post that many of the people gathered from the department for the event still weren’t sure it was actually going to happen.

But work is slated to proceed as the little more than two-year construction plan is under way. If all goes according to plan, and Mr. Tesei acknowledged that delays were quite possible due to weather or unforeseen circumstances, construction will be completed in June 2016 and full reoccupation of the new fire station is planed for September 2016.

“This fire station is the key to protecting the downtown,” Mr. Tesei said. “It is strategically located within the central business district and it is well equipped to respond within the district and to protect the lives and safety of all the inhabitants who reside here and come here during the business day. Without properly staffed and properly maintained life safety services and adequate facilities, the value of our community is not retained. This is an investment in Greenwich’s future and it is one that will have a long-term impact for many generations.”

Close to 30 people were in attendance for the event, including both career and volunteer firefighters, members of the Greenwich Police Department, including Chief of Police James Heavey, himself a volunteer firefighter, and members of the Board of Estimate and Taxation and Representative Town Meeting. Mr. Tesei thanked them all and offered a special thanks to Greenwich taxpayers, “who are going to foot the bill to construct this station.” He said everyone in attendance had played a role in making the project happen and said they should be “very proud” of that.

Mr. Tesei went through the long history of the project, saying that plans for a new central fire station went all the way back to 1974. But the proposal that led to the current project really gained momentum only in the late 1990s, with the first funding coming in 1999. The new fire station will be connected with the Greenwich Police Department, which received its new headquarters several years ago as part of the Public Safety Complex. Originally Greenwich Emergency Medical Services (GEMS) was slated to share the new headquarters with the fire department but that had to be changed as the project evolved through the years.

“You can see that this is truly on Greenwich time,” Mr. Tesei said with a smile. “It only took 40 years for us to get to where we are today.”

The old central fire station, which had long been considered inadequate to house a modern fire department, was torn down in 2013 over the objections of residents seeking to preserve the historic structure. Mr. Tesei said requirements for the building to meet new seismic standards to prevent collapse made it impossible to renovate the existing building and it was demolished to make way for the new headquarters, which will use the same site.

The demolition required scattering the central headquarters to several locations. Command staff has used office space on Holly Hill Lane, and since 2012 the fire trucks and personnel have been split between a temporary location in the Horseneck Lane parking lot and the Cos Cob fire station. Because of that, Chief Siecienski said, firefighters were very happy to finally see ground being broken.

“It’s good for morale,” Chief Siecienski said. “The fire department is bifurcated right now and in a couple of different locations, so it’s extremely difficult to have a cohesive network. We have fire administration that’s been out of the firehouse since February of 2006, and that’s extremely difficult to work with. Fire chiefs need to be working as closely to the men and women of the department as possible. There has to be that day-to-day interaction. There’s a a sense of calm that comes over people who are in administration when they have the opportunity to be in a firehouse with people. It’s a natural fit and it’s what needs to happen. We need to get these firefighters back in Central Greenwich and get the administration teamed up with them in the same building.”

Chief Siecienski said the department was looking forward to seeing the new headquarters built. He said the department was making the best of it in the scattered locations and that the temporary facility on Horseneck was “working out great” but that the issue is the ladder company that was moved to Cos Cob because of how jam-packed that station is there.

Piazza Construction of Hawthorne, N.Y., will be handling the project and Mr. Tesei wished the firm the best of luck.

“We look forward to seeing your work in progress,” Mr. Tesei said, noting the open air location right in the middle of Greenwich Avenue. “You’re on display for the entire town to see right here in the central business district.”

Mr. Tesei, Chief Siecienski, Commissioner of Public Works Amy Siebert, and Joe Piazza of Piazza Construction handled the shovels for the ceremonial groundbreaking, and Mr. Tesei joked that he was denied in his request to use the heavy construction equipment to do it because of the liability for the town. But while they wielded the shovels, Chief Siecienski urged others to get involved, too, by asking the firefighters who have worked so hard over the years under adverse conditions to throw a symbolic shovelful of dirt.

 

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