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New Scotland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, February 18, 2010
Voorheesville’s fire department shifts strategy in pursuit of new truck
By Philippa Stasiuk
Pie charts show incidents to which New Salem and Voorheesville fire departments responded, as reported to the National Fire Incident Reporting System. Founded in 1976, the United States Fire Administration developed the NFIRS to assess the nature and scope of fires in the United States. NFIRS is the world’s largest collection of incidents to which fire departments respond and is housed with the Federal Homeland Security Agency.
VOORHEESVILLE In a dismal budget year, the Voorheesville fire department will try another angle for a new truck, applying for funds with the town of New Scotland as part of a mutual aid agreement.
Wednesday night, the town board voted, 4 to 0, in support of the application.
Last summer, Fire Chief Frank Papa had proposed the village buy a new truck, for about $320,000, which the board ultimately turned down.
At the village board meeting on Jan. 26, volunteer firefighter David Gannon joined Papa in announcing to the board its intention of submitting a co-application with New Salem Fire District for the State Department’s Local Government Efficiency program. Gannon said that, if the grant were approved, it would pay 90 percent of the approximately $360,000 cost of a new truck, which would be housed at the village’s fire station on Altamont Road, but used both in the village and New Salem. The Voorheesville fire department would be responsible for its upkeep.
“This grant would mean better equipment for all of us,” said Gannon. “And it would formalize and expand New Salem’s and our mutual agreement to be a 24/7 scenario,” he said of around-the-clock coverage. “Now it’s only a nine to five, period. This would expand our coverage and focus on the 85A corridor, the north side of Route 85.”
Although Voorheesville already has a mutual-aid agreement with New Salem, situations in which help is either given or received by the two fire departments is rare. According to the National Fire Incident Reporting System, Voorheesville neither gave nor received any mutual aid in 2007, the year in which the most recent data is available. In the same time period, New Salem received aid twice and gave aid once to other fire departments, although the data did not specify to or from whom, and New Salem also has other mutual aid agreements.
Papa and Gannon appeared before the New Scotland Town Board on Wednesday night, asking for the town’s support since the New Salem fire district would not be part of the grant.
After last night’s meeting, Gannon didn’t say why the proposal with New Salem was off, but he said that Voorheesville would be applying with the town of New Scotland instead.
“We’re working on our mutual aid agreement,” he told The Enterprise. “The current agreement is coverage of schools 24/7 and daytime calls during the week. We would be equipped to respond to situations on a mutual-aid basis.”
Councilman Douglas LaGrange asked Papa at last night’s meeting if the new truck was to replace an old one or to enhance the fleet. Papa said it would be a replacement.
In July, when Papa asked the village board to buy a truck, he said that he was requesting a new fire truck two years earlier than the usual 25-year replacement period because new emission standards would make the 2010 fire truck models more expensive. Papa said the cost of a new ready-made fire truck is about $320,000; however, in 2010, new, more environmentally efficient engines required by the federal Environmental Protection Agency may add between $17,000 and $35,000 to the cost of a truck.
The Voorheesville Volunteer Fire Department has three trucks, Papa said in July, that were seven, 22, and 33 years old. Papa said that, to help finance the purchase of a new truck, the fire department would sell the 22-year-old truck, which is valued somewhere between $20,000 and $25,000.
Little benefit for New Salem district
Last week, Bill Gruss, New Salem’s fire chief, was supportive of the shared grant with Voorheesville but said that its outcome would do more for the village than his fire district. “With a shared services grant, they’re giving out money but you have to have a big need,” said Gruss. “Our district wouldn’t benefit a lot. Other than mutual aid, we’ll get nothing out of it; we’re our own department.”
The New Salem Fire Department already owns eight trucks, the newest of which is seven years old, according to Gruss. The department, organized in 1946, services 4,500 people and covers 25 square miles, including all of the area surrounding Voorheesville. It has two stations one in the hamlet of New Salem, on Route 85A, and one on Route 85.
The Voorheesville department, organized in 1902, serves the village, about two square miles and about 3,000 people; it has one newly refurbished firehouse.
Gruss said that, if the village didn’t get the grant, Voorheesville couldn’t expand mutual aid because only its newest truck, which is five years old, complies with national safety standards.
Papa agreed, explaining that the open cabs on its two older trucks, one made in 1970 and one in 1986, don’t comply with the National Fire Protection Association’s safety standards. Papa said that open cabs, where riders are strapped in but not enclosed, will be phased out entirely in the next five years, and that the cost of retrofitting an old truck to comply with the new standards would cost almost as much as buying a new truck.
“By the time you get done doing the retrofit, you still have a 25-year-old truck,” said Papa. He went on about having just one truck that meets the new standards, “And the trouble with one truck is, if it breaks down, we couldn’t provide any service to the community. That’s why we’ve been trying to purchase a new vehicle.”
Gruss said that, as a fire district, New Salem’s fire department is able to directly levy taxes and has more control over its needs than a municipal fire department, like Voorheesville, which must get its financing through the village.
“With fire districts and fire protection, it all depends on how we’re funded and who has control over our money,” said Gruss. “With Frank, his hands are tied with lots of stuff because the village 100 percent takes care of all their funding.
“But I wish them luck with the truck. Everyone wants a new truck. Two years ago, we bought a used truck off of Onesquethaw. We repainted it, re-lettered it, and it was good to go. It’s a possibility,” said Gruss.
The New Salem fire chief said that another option to provide the village with adequate fire protection would be for Voorheesville to contract for fire services from New Salem.
“The village says they need to provide fire protection but, at the same time, they could contract with us and we’d take care of fire protection,” he said. “We contract with the town of New Scotland.”
Currently, Gruss said, the New Salem Fire District surrounds the village of Voorheesville with fire protection. “We get calls and we’re already driving right through the village,” said Gruss.
Papa said that whether or not to consolidate fire departments was not his decision. “That’s something that the mayor and supervisor would have to come to grips with,” he said of Voorheesville’s Robert Conway and New Scotland’s Thomas Dolin. “Right now, the village has to provide fire protection for the village.”
Conway said this week before Papa had approached the New Scotland Town Board that, if Voorheesville and New Salem received the grant, the more formalized arrangement would be a step further in cooperation, if not consolidation. “The Voorheesville fire department would be the first responders to a larger area that would cut into the New Salem fire department’s response area, where Voorheesville would become the primary respondent,” he said. “That’s a major step forward if it comes to a formal agreement.”
When asked if the two fire departments would ever go so far as consolidation, Conway said, “Not to say it’s impossible and, if there was mutual interest, we wouldn’t pursue it, but there’s more complexity. Our fire department is owned by the village. New Salem is a fire district with its own taxing authority.”
In January, the town of North Greenbush and the hamlet of Defreestville consolidated their fire protection services after winning an efficiency grant that allowed the two entities to research and study how a consolidation could improve fire services.
New York’s Department of State estimated that North Greenbush would increase its yearly fire protection tax rate by 2 percent, as opposed to the projected 3 percent, and residents in the DeFreestville fire district would reduce their fire-protection tax rate by 40 percent, or $148 on a property assessed at $100,000. In 2009, the state estimated that the 24 implementation grants it awarded would produce 10-year savings of $106 million, from a $9 million investment.
Safety expenditures represented 8.3 percent of local government costs in New York State in 2007. Voorheesville’s budget for the fire department, including the Length of Service Award Program, or LOSAP, which gives tax-deferred income benefits to volunteers, and insurance, was $109,380, or 8.5 percent of the 2009-10 budget.
“When you have a village this small, that hurts economically but we need to provide proper protection to residents of the village,” said Papa. “That’s what the chief does. You have to look out for the residents of the village.”