The Block Island Times

Inside the Block Island fire barn

Dept. members make case for new facility
By Stephanie Turaj | Nov 08, 2013
Photo by: Kari Curtis Stacked chairs and tables are crammed between two poles at the fire barn.

Rescue Squad Captain Bryan Wilson points to cracks in the fire barn ceiling.

“On a really windy day, the whole building moves,” he said. “If something happens to this facility, we have no place to put this stuff.”

Wilson is referring to a myriad of equipment in the fire barn, at an estimated value of $2 to $2.5 million, that includes four firetrucks, oxygen tanks, and an ice rescue truck. According to Wilson, there is barely enough room to store it all.

To solve the issue of storage space and building disrepair, the Block Island Fire and Rescue Department is proposing to build a new fire barn. The new barn would create additional space for the department, as well as serve other community needs. Wilson also said it would have a steel frame to withstand high wind events.

While Wilson estimates that the new building would cost about $3 million, the department would not go to the town for funding. This project would be entirely funded from donations, but he does want what he referred to as a “cooperative” relationship with the town.

“I want this to be a discussion, not an argument,” said Wilson about the proposal. And to that point, Wilson and Fire Department member Jaixon Hall told The Block Island Times some of the issues with the current fire barn.

Storage Space

Inside the fire barn, Jaixon Hall stretches his arms out, and has barely enough room to do so — one hand is touching a fire truck and the other is touching the wall. The barn, as it currently is, is cramped.

“I’d like to see more space for storage,” said Hall, who has been working with Wilson on the design for the new fire barn. “Some fire calls can definitely be chaotic... I can easily see how it could be hard for guys to get into the trucks. There are really small passages in the fire barn.”

And these small passages are taken up with piles of tables and chairs for Bingo night (“cleanup can be a pain,” said Hall), hoses, and other equipment.

“It’s basically stash equipment where you can,” said Wilson, who added that he stores his personal equipment in his own truck. Other material, such as the department’s mass casualty unit, a vehicle that contains equipment for about 40 casualties, is stored outside.

“This [vehicle] should be stored inside,” said Wilson, who points to rust on the unit, and also notes that during the winter, he has to move some of the vehicle’s equipment that could freeze into the rescue barn.

The current barn barely provides enough room for the four trucks and a few smaller vehicles that it currently holds. The four trucks are lined in two rows, with one truck behind the other. Wilson said there has been at least one instance where a truck stalled, trapping the one behind it. With the new design, Hall said the plan is to have each truck next to each other.

The current fire barn, located on the corner of Beach and Ocean Avenues, was built in the 1970s and is roughly 4,000 square feet.

It is separate from newer rescue barn, which sits next to the fire barn.

Old equipment and disrepair

Wilson also points out the electrical panels, which he calls “problematic.” He said that when the fire barn was first built, the electrical panels were installed to meet the needs at that time. As the needs increased, the panels were added on to as needed.

“Our drain on the equipment is quite large,” he said.

Wilson also said the department could find grants to purchase three or four off-terrain rescue vehicles — the department has one such vehicle. “We could use them, but where are we going to put them?” said Wilson.

In addition, when the trucks are started inside the barn, there is no mechanism to remove the exhaust from the barn — potential safety and health violations. There are systems that could be installed in the new barn that could pump out the exhaust, according to Wilson.

“There is general building disrepair that needs to be addressed, such as ceiling leaks in the fire barn meeting room, cracks in the ceilings, and missing wall panels,” said Wilson.

Wilson added that the decline of the driveway leading is too steep, and with a new building this could be leveled out.

For the community and department

Hall is the second youngest member on the Fire Department. He has been involved with the department since he was 14. “Us two, the younger ones, are trying to get more people to join the department,” he said. “My goal with this project is to help out for the next generation.”

One of the things Hall said would be possible with more space is a permanent training facility similar to an obstacle course that would help members with fitness. Fire Chief Tristan Payne built a temporary one in the past, but it was taken down due to space constraints, according to Hall. “I loved that — I wanted to do it over and over again,” he said with excitement in his voice.

Hall said that the building would also be better for the whole community, such as serving as an emergency shelter during an event such as a hurricane, a meeting space for the community, and a meeting space for the department members.

“I got interested in the Fire Department because it feels really good to help the community,” said Hall. “I’ve learned a lot through the friendships I’ve made. Right now, it’s a we-hang-on and on-the-fly type of thing. A new meeting room would definitely help.”

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