PHILLIPS – An article on the town meeting warrant for 2021 will ask if the town will raise nearly $20,000 for preliminary plans and engineering designs for a new fire station.
The proposal is to renovate the former elementary school building on Russell Street into a fire station. The town owns the building and lot; it was used as the town office until recently, when the office was moved to the former bank building.
Fire Chief James Gould and Deputy Chief Jeremy O’Neil discussed several of the reasons why the department needs a new station.
Currently the department is housed on Park Street in a two-bay garage adjacent to the town garage and the NorthStar Ambulance station. Four trucks are packed into the two bays, leaving little room to move around. Depending on the nature of the call, firefighters may need to shuffle vehicles around to access the truck they need, which increases the time it takes the respond to a call.
The bay doors open into the town’s sand and salt lot. Every time a truck goes in or out of the station, it gets covered in sand and salt. The constant exposure to salt results in corrosion and chronic electrical issues in the vehicles.
“Every time we have a call, we have to have a back up plan in case the truck we want to use doesn’t start,” Gould said.
In addition, sand and salt blows into the bays even when the doors are closed, so cleaning the station is a constant and never-ending task.
The cost of vehicle maintenance and repairs, coupled with increased firefighter hours to compensate for the extra time they spend cleaning, adds up. O’Neil felt confident that a better location would, in the long run, save the town money. It would also be safer for the firefighters and allow them to respond more quickly with the correct apparatus for the call.
In 2020, the department responded to 137 calls. The number of calls continues to rise, and the call profile continues to change. They get called for everything from fires to accidents to propane leaks to downed trees and floods. They’re ready to serve, but they need a safer and more efficient station.
Gould said that he’s been looking into various options for a new station for more than ten years. Last year, when the Russell Street building was slated to be sold by the town, the fire department asked the townspeople to retain the building for one year to allow them time to investigate the situation. The town voted strongly in favor of allowing them the time to do their research. Since then, Gould and O’Neil have worked with multiple contractors and consultants to determine if the Russell Street building is a viable option, which they found it is.
The next step, which is being proposed on the town meeting warrant, is to get detailed architectural plans and engineering designs to get an idea of how much the renovation would cost. Benjamin Lower of Jay has quoted the town $19,950 for designs, the engineering plans to bring the building into compliance with the State requirements, and a detailed breakdown and quotes for specific items involved in the renovation.
Gould was careful to state that this next step does not lock the town into anything more than paying for the plans and designs. The town has not paid anything for the research that has been done so far, but it’s time to invest some money in order to make a well-informed decision. He said that the goal is to find the most efficient solution for a new station. The department and the Phillips Board of Selectmen have looked into all the options that have been presented at this point and the Russell Street Building continues to be the best option so far. In addition to providing a better space for the fire department, it would allow the town to retain and use a portion of the building that has already been renovated and brought up to code. The Phillips Area Food Pantry is housed in that section of the building, along with office spaces and a meeting room.
Gould invited anyone with questions, comments, or concerns to reach out to him. The best way is to call the department at 639-3473 and leave a message for him.
The town meeting is scheduled for June 17.