A standing room only crowd came out to the West Hurley firehouse Monday evening, May 7, to discuss their local fire commissioners’ proposal to purchase two new fire trucks: One a used ladder truck, to be purchased for $94,000, and the other a used 2005 pumper tanker costing $51,000. The vote had originally been set for April 24 until local residents protested at an April 16 fire commission meeting. A new voting date of June 5 has been set.
The meeting started off and ran most of its length in a belligerent, stand-off mode, with fire commissioners cutting off public speakers going over strict time limits, and restricting comments to the subject of trucks only. A row of seats remained empty to one side of the room, reserved for firefighters, until residents started to fill them. Fire commission chairman Michael Van Valkenburgh tried explaining, at several points, how the very idea of a vote on the equipment purchases had been arrived at via a “miscommunication” from an attorney for the district the commissioners had since fired.
By meeting’s end, however, each of the fire district’s five commissioners, starting with their newest member, former Ulster County undersheriff Frank Faluotico, and including several members of many decades’ standing, had agreed to heed whatever decision the public made via their votes.
According to Van Valkenburgh, the West Hurley fire commission’s attorney had told them a public referendum would be necessary to purchase equipment; by the time he corrected that decision to note that referendums were only needed if bond financing were involved, the subject of a public vote had been raised openly. Van Valkenburgh said the commissioners didn’t feel right going back on their promise to have a referendum.
Matters grew confused at the fire house meeting this week when commissioners tried explaining how they could, should they so wish, override a no vote from the public. They pointed out how the public would get another chance to override commissioners with signatures representing a quarter of the fire district’s tax roll total. By that point in the discourse, though, members of the public were recounting statements they’d overheard from fire company officials saying they’d get their trucks whether the public wanted them to or not. At which point Faluotico volunteered that he, for one, would not go against the public’s will. After nearly an hour of further discussion, Van Valkenburgh and his fellow commissioners joined him in saying they, too, would not go against the public…even though they could.
Zoning height restrictions
Discussion of the trucks by members of the public focused on several issues. Why did the fire district plan on getting a ladder truck that other districts had found was difficult to train for, and had hurt firefighters in several local situations? Why decrease the district’s capacity for carrying water to a fire when that was what the district seemed to need most? Why go for height in a community without any buildings over three stories, and with 35 foot height restrictions within local zoning? Why sell newer equipment to buy older trucks?
When asked if the proposed ladder truck would fit in the firehouse, Van Valkenburgh replied that it would, with care. He pointed out existing problems with height coming through the structure’s doors. Later, there was some discussion about working with local homeowners to make entry down driveways easier for fire equipment.
Matters reserved for further discussion at the commission’s next regular meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, May 14 included questions as to why the Glenford fire house was closed down, and what would be needed to get it up and running again; what insurance industry demands were for local firefighting; and how to set better budgeting priorities for the district.
Commissioners agreed they did need a new pumper, the better to increase water-carrying capacity.
There also seemed to be some agreement that everybody needed to take a serious look at whether the West Hurley community was “growing exponentially” or not.