PHILLIPS – The Phillips Fire Department recently took ownership of a new rescue squad to replace a failing truck. Next, they’re looking for a better home for their fleet.
For about twelve years the department has researched ways to move out of the current location in the Public Works department on Park Street. Chief James Gould says that the current station was an upgrade from the previous station and has served them well – but it’s time for a change. There are multiple factors that have led the department to search for a new home.
The station is located at the Public Works lot, with two bays situated between the Public Works garage and the NorthStar Phillips Base. Behind the bays is a training area, bathroom and decontamination facilities, and the chief’s office.
Two bays requires that the department stack trucks within the station, which can cause some challenges based on which piece of apparatus is needed at the time. The space is limiting and restrictive, with no room for further expansion.
Because of the location, the trucks are routinely exposed to salt and dust from the salted sand pile located near the building. This exposure to salt, both from driving trucks in and out of the station and from wind blowing particles into the building, has resulted in excessive wear and tear to the fire trucks along with corrosion and issues in the electrical systems. Where the Public Works equipment are better suited for that environment, fire trucks are more sensitive pieces of equipment, and the effects show in the repair and maintenance costs, which Gould said were ‘astronomical.’
Gould said that the constant sand, salt, and dust takes a toll on the firefighters as well as the apparatus.
“We get by,” Gould said. “We have to.”
Their priority is to find a solution that is feasible and affordable for the town while meeting the needs of the department.
In 2021, the department approached the town to request permission to research renovating the former Phillips Elementary School, located on Russell Street. The building is owned by the town and housed the town offices until those offices relocated to Main Street; now, with the exception of the Phillips Area Food Pantry, the building sits empty.
At the town meeting in 2021, the town voted down the proposal. Gould felt this was partly due to the unknown cost and the concern of increasing taxes.
The department continued to do research, and developed an alternate proposal. The Russell Street building has been partially renovated, with about 40 percent converted into more useable, functional office space. The initial proposal was to retain that 40 percent and tear down the other 60 percent, building a new station in the same footprint.
The current proposal, Gould explained, is to retain the entire building, and add a four-bay garage to the end.
By adding on to the existing structure, the project is simplified; demolishing and rebuilding would require precise engineering and extensive work to preserve the integrity of the structure, whereas an addition would is easier to engineer and maintain a safe, solid structure. The cost appears to be significantly less, as well.
The department already has engineering plans for the proposal and is developing a complete package to present to the select board by December 31, with a goal of a town meeting vote in 2023. Gould is looking to provide the town with more details about the proposal to allow the voters to make informed decisions, hoping for a more favorable outcome than the vote in 2021.
Some minor renovations would be required to the interior of the existing building. Additional bathroom facilities, as well as decontamination facilities, would need to be added. Other than that, Gould said the department doesn’t need to make interior renovations. The previous renovations were to make the space more functional, not to address any hazards, so the remaining 60 percent could remain closed off unless the town had a need for the space.
The Russell Street building could also be used for town business, allowing a larger space for public meetings and events such as select board meetings or voting.
The food pantry would also be able to stay in that location; in developing the proposal, Gould said that giving the food pantry a home was an important consideration for the department, as the pantry meets a need for health and safety in the community.
The Russell Street location is just over half a mile from the current station, so the response time is not expected to change much at all.
Gould said relocating the station would meet another need for the town as Public Works could readily make use of the fire department bays, as well as the space in the back.
During preliminary discussions, some townspeople have expressed concerns about calls at night, with fire trucks coming in and our of a more residential area of town; Gould said they have plans in place to reduce that impact on the residents as much as possible.
Phillips Fire currently has 20 members on the roster. They provide fire protection services through Phillips, Madrid Township, and part of Avon. In addition, they provide mutual aid response with other departments in the county.
Over the last four years the call volume has nearly doubled, with 86 calls in 2018 and 144 calls in 2021. At this point in 2022, the department is already at 100 calls.
Gould stressed that the department is appreciative of what the town provides. They are attempting to secure this new station at an affordable cost to the town, and he is optimistic that the town will come through.
“I feel like the service that we could provide could be much better in a different location,” Gould said.
This fall the department purchased a 2001 rescue with very low mileage from Pittsburgh to replace Rescue 3, a 1999 truck with a failing transmission. The truck was purchased outright for approximately $32,000, using funds from the department’s equipment reserve account. Gould said the new truck, Rescue 13, has everything Rescue 3 had except for a mobile fill station for SCBA packs. In addition the cab seats five, an increase from Rescue 3, which allows them to transport more firefighters at a time.
Rescue 13 is expected to be in service in the next two or three weeks, after a lighting upgrade and new lettering is complete.