The Block Island Times

Rescue Dept. pitches new fire barn

Council also looks into food assistance program
By Joel Taylor | Jan 14, 2014
Photo by: Kari Curtis

There was a warm welcoming for Gary Ryan on his first day on the job, but Bryan Wilson was the central figure in Monday’s Town Council meeting, bringing forward preliminary plans for a new fire barn. First, he commended the fire and rescue squads for their preparation for the post-Christmas blizzard. “I want to send some [kudos] out to various folks,” he said.

The majority of the Monday, Jan. 6, Town Council meeting was dedicated to a presentation by Bryan Wilson and Jaixen Hall, who represented the Block Island Fire and Rescue Department.

They presented preliminary plans for a new fire barn to replace the current one, which was built in 1972. The building houses the town’s fire trucks and other equipment, and is separate from the Rescue Barn that was finished in 2007. Wilson introduced Hall as a present and future representative of the Block Island Fire and Rescue Departments, then the two asked the Council to consider endorsing plans for the new fire barn and for their blessings to proceed with planning and fund-raising analysis. The project is projected to cost between $3 million and $3.5 million, according to Wilson.

Space issues are the primary concern for the Fire Department, but Wilson also acknowledged, “It was built in ’72. There’s lots of wear and tear, and the building is substandard.” He went on to say, “The building is an [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] nightmare,” and cited the fact that the department’s breathing apparatus is mandated by OSHA to be stored in a contained area and currently it is not. During a high wind event, Wilson said, the building “shakes, rattles and rolls.”

Wilson explained the plans for the building, which would be big enough to provide more space for the police and for fire equipment, as well as providing a meeting room that would double as an island shelter for severe weather events. The building process would not affect any surrounding plant life. “We don’t want to mess with the trees,” Wilson said. The old building will be torn down after the new building is finished and the resulting space will become centralized parking for the Fire, Police, and Rescue Departments.

Norris Pike, after having spoken to Wilson beforehand, thought at first, “okay, these guys want a new car. But Brian gave me a new perspective. I’m on board with their thinking.”

Wilson conceded, “We know the Town doesn’t have the financial wherewithal to fund this. We can find funding, we just want the Town to say, ‘go ahead.’” The construction of the building is estimated to take about two years.

The council’s newest member, Gary Ryan, who is also a member of the town’s volunteer rescue squad, said he could see the need for more space and better care of the town’s equipment. “The bottom line is we have no mutual aid,” he said.

While none of the councilors spoke against the project, Gaffett said she did not think the presentation warranted any official vote. “It doesn’t seem like this is any sort of call to action,” Gaffett said, “but personally, you have my blessing.” Wilson stated repetitively that this exercise was to “get the Town on board. We want to make sure we can collaborate with the Town like we did with the Rescue Barn.”

The second issue on the agenda concerned the Block Island Power Company (BIPCo) and its issues with state streetlight regulation. There has been confusion surrounding Rhode Island’s laws regarding new, energy efficient streetlight installations and whether or not they apply to BIPCo. The issue here is that “we’re being told one thing, while another thing is going on,” Chris Warfel said. Warfel continued, “BIPCo has been lobbying the [Public Utilities Commission] that they’re not subject to a tariff.”

“We need to get answers. If it’s true that [BIPCo] is supposed to file for the tariff, they better start filing,” Gaffett said.

According to the Rhode Island Municipal Streetlight Investment Act, “The electric distribution company, in consultation with the office, shall file the new tariff with the Public Utilities Commission within sixty days of the effective date of this chapter and the commission shall then issue a decision within 60 days after the filing to effectuate the purposes and provisions of this chapter.” The bill was introduced in April of 2013. A 5-0 vote was passed in order to get moving on clarification on whether or not BIPCo is subject to a tariff on new street lights.

Finally, the Town Council presented an anonymous letter they had received regarding the state’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP, on Block Island. Chris Warfel introduced the letter, and said, “Four people have approached me about this,” and said, regarding the unsigned letter, that “I am very proud of this person.”

“I am writing to you because many people on the island are unemployed in the winter time, as you know, and rely on food stamps (EBT),” the letter writer said.

Warfel has spoken to business owners on the mainland about the SNAP program. “They say it’s hard to set up, but it’s streamlined and payment is instant,” he recalled. Since a recipient gets a fixed amount of available funds, SNAP representatives have advised against using the assistance on Block Island because items simply too expensive. Warfel said that he had spoken to the owners of the Block Island Grocery, and he has been told that they do not have the technical ability to integrate the program.

Because of that, the letter writer asked if the council would “check into Peapod accepting” the SNAP program. Peapod is the online shopping store for Stop & Shop. “I called them (Peapod) last winter and asked them why they didn’t accept them because many of us can’t get off island to shop. They said something about the government having strict guidelines… Could you please make this a priority?” the letter writer asked.

“There is a responsibility to do something,” said Warfel.

“It’s a problem and we’re trying to find out ways to resolve it,” said Gaffett.

After some deliberation about the reasoning behind the issue, Ken Lacoste said, “We need to send this letter directly to SNAP to prove to them that we’re not making this up.” The council agreed to send the letter and to take up the issue after a response had been received.

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