New Castle Fire District Needs Expanded, Modernized Facility

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There are always reasons to delay spending money, especially when the price tag is significant and there are competing needs.

But there is no price that can be put on safety, in this case the well-being of New Castle Fire District No. 1 residents and the approximately 60 dedicated volunteers who tirelessly respond to calls for help day and night, rain or shine.

Next Tuesday, a referendum will be held, asking voters to authorize spending up to $15.2 million to fund a 13,000-square-foot addition to the firehouse located at 491 King St. in Chappaqua. A similar proposal was on the ballot in October 2016 and was badly defeated.

Six-and-a-half years ago commissioners made serious missteps, including but not limited to a narrow window of time for voting in the evening, which left frustrated residents waiting outside the door to cast their ballots.

The reality is that the fire district still operates out of an inadequate facility that lacks proper space for storing and cleaning equipment, as well as accommodating modern apparatus that would enhance public safety and help firefighters carry out their tasks efficiently. For instance, there is no space for a tanker that could provide water in areas of the town without hydrants, nor a 100-foot ladder to reach taller buildings or difficult-to-access structures.

This challenge could become even more critical if the state legislature and Gov. Kathy Hochul advance a plan for more housing construction, even if it not exactly what the governor has in mind in the Housing Compact.

It is understandable that residents may be concerned about the financial impact of the project, but the need for updated equipment and adequate storage space is not unique to New Castle. In recent years, several other communities in the area, such as Millwood, Mount Kisco, Bedford Village and Peekskill, have renovated existing facilities or built new ones to meet the needs of their firefighters and residents.

Furthermore, the comically small size of the washing machine in the basement used to decontaminate gear is an abomination and needs urgent attention. The department currently cleans each set of gear one at a time, wasting valuable hours, regardless of whether there is another call. This issue should be remedied as quickly as possible.

Certainly, the Board of Fire Commissioners could have communicated the issues earlier and more effectively. It has been a few years since the board signaled the need to engage with the public. But any lingering resentment should not cloud the decision at hand next week.

Without an approval, the public would be gambling with the lives of firefighters – and their neighbors.


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