City’s fire halls still need work

It’s been almost one year since Dunkirk Fire Chief Keith Ahlstrom spoke to Common Council’s Public Safety Committee about the need for repairs at the city’s fire halls. Ahlstrom was back Tuesday before the committee to talk repairs, and possible replacement, of the three fire halls.

Ahlstrom provided a list of needs at the three buildings, most of which were on the 2012 list he presented.

The Eagle Street headquarters still needs a new roof, electrical, plumbing and technical upgrades. Structural issues on the 1911 building include a tower in need of demolition along with brick work and repair of the front parapet.

Station 3 was built in 1963 and needs roof work and a separating wall to be addressed, along with electrical, plumbing and heating deficiencies. Station 4 was opened in 1969 at its Doughty Street location and has no major structural issues, although the roof needs minor repairs and there are heating and plumbing issues.

The electrical system in the building needs updating as well.

Ahlstrom said he has spoken to Mayor Anthony J. Dolce about getting an architect or structural engineer to provide a professional opinion on the needs and fixes for the three buildings.

The chief said the Eagle Street headquarters is the best location of the three and would be good for a one-site department. The city owns land to the north of the building and there is room for expansion. Ahlstrom said the number of fire halls in the city would always be an issue, noting that Hose 4 was on the north side of the Norfolk Southern tracks until 1969.

“We can plan around train traffic, we have to do that now,” he added. “It’s just part of our daily operations. … They have to get to the 85 percent of the city that is on the (north) side of the tracks.”

Ahlstrom said fire halls are a matter of meeting the needs of the community.

“That would be much easier operationally if we only had one building,” he stated. “It would be better for the city if we only had two buildings.”

Fourth Ward Councilwoman Stacy Szukala chairs the committee and said she is glad the issue is moving forward.

“I do agree that going down to two stations for now would be the best that we could do. … Station 4 is a pretty sound building,” she added. “It doesn’t make any sense to me to close a building that doesn’t need any repairs and is doing what it needs to do. We’re not dumping money into it, that might not be the case in 15 years.”

Ahlstrom said that whatever is done now should be done with an eye to the future.

“I think that in my mind and having talked to people that are professionals in building and redesigning fire stations, the best thing for the city going forward would be to build a new fire hall,” he explained. “Now, that most likely is not going to happen unless at some point in time in the future it can be tied into a public safety building … take care of a bunch of needs at the same time. … More importantly if it could ever be done, and there isn’t the political will to do this right now, we could use a regional public safety building that encompasses the town of Dunkirk and probably the town of Pomfret and the city of Dunkirk. … All of the problems could be worked out into one building working together.

“I think if people really took a look at it, it could be done in a very cost-effective manner. You wouldn’t necessarily save great deals of money but they wouldn’t be spending any more than what they are now.”

A study of one public safety building serving several communities was undertaken a few years ago but dropped. Ahlstrom added the volunteer fire service is tradition laden and change is tough.

“The fire service historically is intertwined with the political system. They’re a very effective lobbying force and are very active,” Ahlstrom added. “There really needs to be a will beforehand on people’s part to honestly come and sit at the table.”

Ahlstrom said a public safety building would be best, but in the meantime, the city’s fire stations need work, something that’s been talked about for 50 years. He stated the next step is finding out what repair causes and needs are.

One department need has been met with the arrival and use of a new rescue vehicle, in service since the end of February.

“We’ve had no problems with it, we’ve not had occasion to use both,” the chief said of both rescue vehicles the department has at headquarters. “We need to have the incident where it arises that we need the second one to figure out how it’s actually going to work. We’ve talked about it. We can’t predict what combination of people are going to be left there to operate it.”

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