Selkirk Fire District Commissioner Chuck Wickham explains how the proposed $17.8 million project will address current fire stations’ safety hazards, overall tight space, and outdated 20th-century architecture, during the Tuesday, Nov. 27 public meeting held at the District’s second Firehose on Glenmont Road. Diego Cagara / Spotlight News
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SELKIRK —The Selkirk Fire District held two public meetings last week, the first on Tuesday, Nov. 27 and the second on Thursday, Nov. 29, to inform residents about the upcoming Dec. 11 bond vote. If passed, it would jumpstart a $17.8 million project that will address the district’s three outdated fire stations and build a new headquarters.
Polls will be open from noon to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 11, and residents can cast their vote at any of the district’s three stations.
The Tuesday, Nov. 27 meeting, which took place at the fire district’s second station at 301 Glenmont Road in Glenmont, began with a video presentation that explained why the Selkirk Fire District believes the project is important to the more than two dozen fire district residents in attendance.
The project, designed by Mitchell Associates Architects, includes the construction of a brand-new, 34,091 square-foot headquarters on district-purchased land along U.S. Route 9W beside the Albertus W. Becker Elementary School; the demolition and reconstruction of the district’s second station that would take up 10,224 square feet, and rehabilitating its third station at 480 Bridge St. in South Bethlehem.
Despite an initial report the week prior stating that the bond measure, if passed, would cost the average homeowner just below $100 per year, Selkirk Fire District Chairman Charles “Chuck” Wickham confirmed during the Nov. 27 meeting that it would instead cost around $75 annually, as the bond matures in 25, not 30 years.
The project’s overall cost “will be offset by revenue generated from the sale of property and income from unused portions of the new property on Rt. 9W,” according to a press statement released back on Nov. 16.
The fire district perceived this project to be more efficient in the long term than building a new, fourth fire station, since its three current stations have received many updates through the decades to the point that they all have outgrown their physical architectural capacities. The original stations were built in 1928, 1952 and 1956. Firefighter safety, apparatus, and vehicle fleet standards have evolved exponentially since then, making the structures outdated.
The three stations also pose safety hazards to the district’s 50 volunteer firefighters, including constant exposure to the fire trucks’ diesel fumes, and the extremely tight spaces between the vehicular fleet and the stations’ ceilings, which are separated by mere inches.
After the video about the project ended, Wickham began presenting blueprints of proposed floor plans for both the new headquarters and updated fire stations, in addition to an artist’s rendering of what the headquarters could look like, to give residents an idea of what the new structure could look like.
Overall, the residents who attended the Nov. 27 meeting offered either positive or mixed opinions on the project.
One local resident, who said he has lived in the area for 55 years now, said he supports the project completely but was concerned that the FD needs to continue recruiting more volunteers, especially younger ones.
Wickham responded that recruitment has been one reason why this project is needed, because the current fire stations’ overall outdated nature and unsafe standards could both cause some current volunteers to leave and deter people from wanting to volunteer down the road.
The project’s architect Robert Mitchell, who has worked on fire stations both state- and nationwide, also spoke on how volunteerism in firefighting is declining in recent years.
He said that a fire station needs to look physically “attractive” to volunteer firefighters so that they feel more emboldened to stay longer and increase recruitment rates overall. By “attractive,” Mitchell meant better firefighter safety standards, and more space for the crew and even community events inside the station, for instance.
With the current Selkirk FD’s second station for instance, volunteers have had to literally sleep on the floor at times due to lack of space, which he said was bad.
“I’ve been at public hearings where people would yell out, ‘What do they need a bunk room for? They can just sleep on the floor,’” he said. “People can be very callous about other people’s comfort and safety. If a young person comes and sees all this opportunity to be part of a group and a nice place to be, where they can be trained and know that where they can sleep is not on the floor, then it’s much better for the fire station and that volunteer in the long run.”
Another resident wondered whether the new location of the headquarters building will be beneficial for the overall FD.
Wickham answered that it would be in a more centralized location so it can improve response time whenever there is an emergency.
“By having a centrally-located spot and as we all know that development is starting to move south, there’s going to be more homes to protect, and we hopefully get more volunteers out of that,” he said. “If we can get more volunteers quicker to the fire station and more of them there at an on-call emergency, we’ll be able to respond with our trucks with more people on them and be more ready to do the job.”
A third resident asked if any firefighters have been injured or hurt in the past, due to the fire stations’ substandard qualities.
“We haven’t seen anyone get hurt, thank God,” said Wickham. “But we’ve had damaged equipment and fire trucks hit the stations sometimes. There’s been a lot of close calls overall, but we’re just nervous. If you get run over by a fire truck, you don’t get a second chance.”
A fourth resident asked how long the overall project’s construction would take, to which Mitchell answered, “The outside number is two years from the first groundbreaking, this coming May. Maybe we can shorten that by three or four months.”
Residents who wanted more detailed floor plans and information on the buildings’ rooms were individually shown blueprints and schematics by Mitchell after the public meeting.
For those who weren’t able to make either the Nov. 27 or 29 meeting, more information about the overall project is available at http://selkirkfd.org/building-project/.