The Rockville Centre Fire Department, the largest volunteer force in the state, continues to seek upgrades to two of its firehouses, but other costly projects in the village are taking precedence.
Members of the firehouses at 103 Maple Ave. and 58 N. Centre Ave. have combated mold, electrical and plumbing issues, as well as leaky pipes and roofs, for more than a decade, according to Fire Chief Brian Cook.
“We’re trying to come up with a solution, one that benefits not just the Fire Department, but makes sure that there’s a safe response still within the village,” Cook told the Herald. Though the department has explored the idea of building two new firehouses, he added, “Obviously, there’s a budget issue.”
Mayor Francis X. Murray said the village does not have the funds right now to do the repairs, which Cook noted are expected to cost about $11 million. Rockville Centre residents voted against spending more than $20 million to repair the two firehouses in 2011, officials said, but according to Cook, the estimates provided two years ago by H2M Architects and Engineers cut those costs in half.
“We’ve had many surprises in the last five years,” Murray said, noting a range of recent and upcoming necessary projects that have tied up millions of dollars. A 3,700-square-foot iron-removal water treatment plant on Maple Avenue, which is expected to be completed in March, is about a $5 million project, Murray said. Upgrades to a pump station on Seaman Avenue would cost about $2.2 million, he added, and expenses to repair a village water tank are estimated at $3.5 million.
“As important as the Fire Department is, and it’s very important to me, these are quality-of-life things when you talk about sanitation and clean water,” said Murray, a member of Floodlight Rescue Company No. 1 for over 40 years. “We’re trying to find a way to get these buildings to where they should be, and I’m not sure when that’s going to be.”
But Cook said there are safety issues interfering with volunteer firefighters’ abilities to do their jobs, and the department’s annual operating budget, which was about $800,000 last year, can only cover equipment and smaller repairs. At Maple Avenue, which houses the department’s Live Oak Engine Company No. 1 and Hook Ladder & Bucket Company No. 1, he pointed up at brown streak stains on the beige walls.
“Not to be gross, but the brown on the wall is from the bathrooms,” Cook said. Though the plumbing was repaired after that leak, Cook said, other pipes continue to dribble liquid. He also noted holes in the ceiling and water seeping into the basement’s electric panels.
Many of the department’s roughly 330 members spend hours at the firehouses during “work nights” and for trainings, as well as long shifts on standby during storms. “Our concern is the safety of the members,” Cook said. “We want to make sure that they’re not sitting in mold or sitting in an area where the ceiling’s going to come down on them because somebody flushed the toilet.”
Upstairs at the North Centre Avenue firehouse, where Alert Engine and Hose Company No. 2 and Floodlight Rescue Company No. 1 are stationed, several ceiling panels are missing, and leaks are common. “This roof in the last two years has been repaired three times,” Cook said, “but after any large rainfall, we’re still getting these issues.”
He has also asked the village to replace a 20-year-old fire engine, which he said has wiring issues. “Year after year, we’re investing more money into repairing the issues that are coming up because of its age,” Cook said.
Though Murray said the village does not yet have a plan to renovate the firehouses or buy a new engine, he noted the village’s recent purchases for the department. In September 2016, it unveiled three fire engines and a ladder truck, which cost a total of about $2.5 million. The village also recently bought a utility vehicle for Reliance Hose Co. No. 3, which was about $250,000, he said, as well as 70 sets of protective gear — pants, boots, jackets and helmets — for firefighters last year.
If able to be raised or budgeted for, Cook said, the $11 million would cover a new roof, new windows, electrical and plumbing upgrades and reconfiguring rooms to create more space in the North Centre Avenue facility, the department’s headquarters. It would include similar improvements for the Maple Avenue firehouse, as well as an extension on the side, where Floodlight could move.
Adding elevators in the firehouses, he added, would also allow for older department members to attend meetings more easily.
The department responded to nearly 3,400 calls last year, and Deputy Mayor Kathy Baxley recognized the members for their hard work at a village board meeting earlier this month. “I just want to point that out and emphasize it because of all they do for all of us and all the residents on a volunteer basis,” she said. “I just want to acknowledge you and thank the department for that.”
“We are definitely pro-Fire Department, hugely, especially me,” Murray said. “I will do anything for them I can. But getting those buildings done right now, it’s a challenge. We’re trying to figure it out.”