The Block Island Times

New fire barn proposed

Would triple the size of current building
By Stephanie Turaj | Oct 27, 2013
Photo by: Kari Curtis The current fire barn on Beach Avenue, which members of the Block Island Fire and Rescue Department feel is too small to meet the department’s needs.

It’s time to plan for the future, said members of the Block Island Fire and Rescue Department, which is why the group 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, according to members of the department.

The proposal was made by Rescue Squad Captain Bryan Wilson at the Monday, Oct. 21 departmental meeting. It is currently in the discussion phase only — and has not moved past the members of the Fire and Rescue Department. Wilson presented preliminary blueprints for a new fire barn at the Monday meeting.

This project would cost about $3 million, according to Wilson. To pay for the new building, he said the department would look for some funding from federal and state grants, as well as potential private funding.

“I don’t want to put too much of the burden on town taxpayers,” said Wilson. “The town doesn’t have the money. But if we don’t try something, we’re not going to get it.”

When told of the proposal and its cost, First Warden Kim Gaffett said to The Block Island Times, “What is this, April Fool’s?”

While the actual design is still in the conceptual phase, the current proposal would total about 10,000 square feet, about triple the square footage of the current building. Part of this additional square footage would come from new attic space created. The larger size is the primary reason for the proposal, said Wilson.

“Our current building is really tight,” he said. “Chances are, we will end up filling it [the extra space]. I’d rather have plenty of design room than just squeak by with enough footage.”

The current fire barn, located on the corner of Beach and Ocean Avenues, was built in the 1970s. At roughly 4,000 square feet, the barn currently houses four firetrucks. It is separate from the rescue building, which stores the ambulances and has an upstairs living and meeting area.

With the new fire barn, there would be room for additional vehicles — up to seven firetrucks. There would also be additional room for equipment, Wilson said.

Members at the Oct. 21 meeting noted the extra space could also be used by other departments. For example, Kate McConville said the Harbors Department has three boats, which currently are stored outdoors, that could be stored inside the fire barn.

“If we’re going to propose a $3 to $4 million building, we have to find a way that it could pitch in to serve other departments,” said Kevin Hoyt, a member of the Fire and Rescue Department.

Members of the department also floated several ancillary uses of the building, including perhaps providing space for rental housing or for a community exercise room. Also, there was a suggestion to move the Harbors Department office to the new fire barn.

Wilson also suggested the new fire barn serve as an “emergency shelter” during events such as hurricanes. (The Block Island School is currently the designated location for a shelter, but its hallways are the emergency areas, not the larger gymnasium, according to Wilson.)

“It makes a lot of sense to bring all three of the first responder departments to one central location,” said Fire Chief Tristan Payne. “This building would provide more room for the police department, it could be a health and wellness center, and it could be a shelter.”

Wilson noted that if the plans for the new barn went through, permitting would be required from various town and state government agencies, including the Town Council, the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC). “It’s all do-able,” said Wilson, referring to the permitting.

Wilson said he had preliminary discussion with most of the members of the Block Island Town Council, and all seemed amenable to the idea.

Wilson, who stressed that these plans are “preliminary,” said he will continue to develop the design plans for the proposal, with the assistance of Fire Department member Jaixon Hall.

“This is for these guys,” said Wilson, referring to the younger generation of fire and rescue volunteers. “We are forming this plan with the next 50 to 75 years in mind.”

Other matters

Also at the Fire and Rescue meeting, treasurer Mike Lofaro reported that the Fire Department has received $146,961 in revenues, and has spent $140,211 this year to date, leaving the department with a current surplus of $7,868 (this balance includes about $1,000 in investment gains).

Also discussed was the Fire Department’s fire engine “Rescue 1,” which is in need of general maintenance and repairs. Wilson noted that there is town funding to purchase a new engine before the summer of 2014.

Members also discussed mailing a letter to island residents, seeking donations to the Fire Department.

Also at the meeting, members discussed sending three to five individuals to an out-of-state training seminar called Fire Department Instructor’s Conference (FDIC).

“It is absolutely worth it — it makes for a well trained department,” said Hoyt.

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