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New Castle Fire District to Ask Voters for Expanded, Modernized Firehouse

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Chappaqua firetrucks have to back into the bays with just a few feet to spare in the King Street firehouse.

New Castle Fire District No. 1 will hold a $15.2 million referendum next month asking district residents to borrow money for the long sought-after modernization and expansion of its King Street firehouse.

If voters approve the proposition set for Tuesday, Apr. 25, the money generated would pay for a 13,000-square-foot addition to the facility on part of the property that the district had acquired from the old Chappaqua Animal Hospital near the intersection of routes 120 and 117. Construction of the new wing would allow the department to fit modern apparatus and provide the roughly 60 members who volunteer for the Chappaqua Fire Department enough space to safely rush out to a fire and prepare and store their equipment.

Perhaps most critically, a larger firehouse enables firefighters to properly decontaminate their gear and shower after returning from a fire or accident before entering their personal cars and potentially risk transporting the remnants of hazardous substances home, according to fire district officials.

“What we’re asking for is the critical requirements to bring us into ADA compliance,” said Brian Murphy, chairman of the board of fire commissioners. “That’s all stuff that we’re basically required to have because we do our air packs right out here on the floor. There’s no counter, there’s no room, there’s nothing. You take it apart and you put it together on the floor, where a new firehouse is going to have room.”

Industry standards require at least eight feet between trucks. In certain locations a driver’s side door nearly touches the passenger side door when opened simultaneously. In the 1979 wing, there is maybe only three feet between the driver’s side of the truck and the wall.

As the cost of construction has risen during the past year, commissioners worked with Mitchell Associates Architects to remove some items from consideration to hold down the price of the referendum. Most notably, build-out of the second floor and bunks that would have provided firefighters a place to stay at the facilities in preparation for some emergencies have been eliminated, Murphy said.

Commissioners and firefighters are hopeful that next month’s vote, more than six years after the ill-fated October 2016 bond issue was resoundingly defeated, will receive the public’s support. The original firehouse was built in 1954, and the building’s one previous expansion was completed in 1979.

Based on the 2022 average assessed valuation, the project would cost an extra $282.40 per year per home for the duration of the bond.

For Fire Chief Paul Eiden, firefighter safety is his top priority, as is protecting firefighters from potentially dangerous carcinogens. A single, inadequately-sized washing machine, which takes two cycles to complete washing one firefighter’s gear, is in the current firehouse’s lower level. There are often 10 or more firefighters who battle a blaze or head out for a serious car accident, which can place firefighters in peril coming into contact with car fluids.

There is only a few feet to spare for firefighters between the wall and this fire truck in the current Chappaqua firehouse.

“Unfortunately, all we need to incorporate for proper firefighter health and wellness expands the footprint of the building, and there’s no way we can fit in a decontamination room, what you would consider cold, warm and hot zones, as far as contact with carcinogens without expanding the footprint,” Eiden said. “Expanding of the footprint, obviously, has the end benefit of making it safer for firefighters to function within the bays.”

Expansion of the firehouse would also provide the public with a greater level of service, according to 12-year firefighter and current Commissioner Charles Rauch. Rauch said the department is unable to house a tanker, which is desperately needed because there are areas within the district that don’t have sufficient water supply. A tanker holds about 3,500 gallons of water.

Also, a 70-foot ladder truck barely fits in the current firehouse. It is recommended that the district acquire a 100-foot ladder because some properties are configured in a way that makes it difficult for trucks to get up the driveways or get close enough to a structure for the 70-footer to be sufficient, Rauch explained.

The Conifer building off the Saw Mill Parkway may be only four stories, for example, but depending on where a fire is located and where the truck can be situated could require firefighters to extend the ladder beyond its current maximum, he said.

“A paid department would never have a fire building like this,” Rauch said of the current facilities. “A paid department would mandate that it gets built with everything fitted out, probably more so than what we’re fitting out now.”

An expanded firehouse would also allow the trucks to enter through the rear of the facility rather than have to back in, holding up traffic, Murphy added.

Eiden said the department would be able to train in an expanded facility and not have to travel to Millwood or Armonk and effectively take its vehicles and manpower out of service when those sessions are needed.

“I still hope to recruit new members to join and I would love to be able to let them know that we’re doing everything we can to not only train them to work and operate safely, but to mitigate as much as we can many of the carcinogens and health hazards that they can walk into,” Eiden said.

If the referendum is approved, it is expected that construction would begin either in November or next March and take one to two years to complete, said Commissioner Ed Frank.

The vote will take place from 12 to 9 p.m. at the firehouse at 491 King St. Parking will be available at the firehouse. There will only be in-person voting.

Editor’s Note: In the original posting of this article, the address of the firehouse was incorrect. The information has been correctly updated.

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