Local and state dignitaries gathered in New Paltz on January 19 to commemorate the start of construction on a new fire station at the corner of Henry W Dubois Drive and North Putt Corners Road. Paid for in part with state funds made available after two major storms swept through the area in 2011, this new firehouse will replace two much older stations. Only renewable energy will be used for daily operations, although a backup generator fueled by petroleum products will be on hand. The new building design incorporates highly efficient elements for heating, cooling and insulation; additionally, firefighters provided input to ensure that the station addresses their health and safety needs better than they have been in the past.
The brief ceremony — characterized by the facemasks and attempts to maintain distance that are hallmarks of this coronavirus pandemic — was held at the location of the former station 2, which was recently demolished for this project. Fire trucks stored there have been relocated to a pole barn near the village’s sewage treatment plant, which was insulated and heated for that purpose; public works employees this winter will be reporting to plow trucks left outside in the snow, but once this project is complete they will have the benefit of that heated space for storing and washing those vehicles. The new building will be next door to the justice center now being built to house the police and justice court; nearby is the headquarters of the New Paltz Rescue Squad, making this a natural location for an emergency operations center.
Mayor Tim Rogers referred to this project as “years in the making.” Work to finalize the plans has been undertaken since 2015, using $5 million in state funding to jump start the $6.6-million project. Town and village taxpayers will largely cover the rest by paying off bonds created for this purpose. (The fire department is part of village government, but thanks to an inter-municipal contract all town residents receive fire protection, not just the town residents who happen to live in the village.) One of the ideas floated once the storm-recovery state funds became available was to build a second station on the other side of the Wallkill River, but it was determined that investing in a single station would be a better use of limited funds. While work on this particular design has only taken six years, firefighters have been clamoring for a new station for at least 30.
Fire chief Cory Wirthmann knows something of the history of firefighting in New Paltz, there having been chiefs in four prior generations of the Wirthmann family. Safety and training have been advanced significantly even in the current chief’s lifetime. Wirthmann’s grandfather had a protective coat and head covering, for example, but entered burning buildings wearing blue jeans. Firefighters now have much more equipment to protect against heat, flame and smoke; the new firehouse will have a turnout gear changing room to ensure that the stink and toxicity doesn’t haunt volunteers after the work is done.
An average of two calls a day come into the New Paltz department, the mayor said at the ceremony, but averages do not tell the whole story. Sometimes, that’s meant answering as many as 24 calls in 24 hours. That volume of calls arises from serving a community that includes a college campus and a ten-mile section of Interstate 87. Firefighters also regularly assist their fellows in other nearby communities using a system of mutual aid. “We’d be in trouble without our volunteer fire department,” Rogers said, calling the new station a “wise investment.”
There are seven road vehicles in the firefighting fleet, along with gator for fighting wilderness fires and an inflatable boat. The current station 1, a portion of the municipal building complex on Plattekill Avenue, four trucks have been crammed into a three-bay garage for some years. In addition, the ceiling clearance is just inches above the height of the largest trucks. The five double bays at the new station will provide more than enough to allow all the vehicles to be kept out of the weather until needed, without the risk of damaging a truck or the building itself simply by trying to park it.
Once the new firehouse is completed — which Mayor Rogers believes should take about a year — it will be the sole station for the community, replacing station 1 which was brought into service in 1950, and the now-demolished station 2, which was built in 1981.