“This is such a unique afternoon,” Village of New Paltz mayor Tim Rogers noted on Saturday, September 17, as dignitaries, first responders and community members mingled inside and outside the brand-new headquarters of the Village Fire Department. What he meant was that it was the first and probably the only time that non-firefighters will be permitted to set foot inside the new 14,000-square-foot building’s cavernous Apparatus Bay, on account of safety regulations. Last Saturday was Touch-a-Truck Day for grownups, one might say.
The occasion was the Grand Opening for a facility many years in the making. “This started with money from [Hurricane] Irene and [Tropical Storm] Lee,” said Town of New Paltz supervisor Neil Bettez, referencing the back-to-back extreme weather events that brought devastation to low-lying portions of the township in late August and early September of 2011. “This came in under budget and mostly on time, during COVID. It’s nice to check something off the list.”
The damage wrought by those two storms, followed by Hurricane Sandy one year later, prompted New York State to create the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery (GOSR) in 2013 to channel funding to hard-hit communities for recovery and resilience projects. GOSR supplied approximately $5 million of the $8 million cost for the new Emergency Operations Center and Municipal Fire Department in New Paltz; and it was GOSR’s chief strategy and program officer Paul Onyx Lozito who wielded the scissors for Saturday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, alongside New Paltz Fire Department chief Cory Wirthmann.
In his remarks, Lozito praised NPFD’s new digs as “the best facility that we have across the state.” He recalled that emergency responses to the 2011 weather disasters were hindered by the fact that the old NPFD headquarters was located in the Wallkill River floodplain. It was also too small for the Department’s needs, with firetrucks and other vehicles crammed into three tight bays. The Fire Department currently operates a 100-foot platform ladder truck, two engines, one rescue pumper, one supply pumper, one tanker, one brushfire police truck, one rescue boat and one utility off-road vehicle.
The new Apparatus Bay will ease the space crunch significantly. It has five doors on each end, one set opening onto North Putt Corners Road and the other onto the building’s rear parking lot, accessible from Henry W. DuBois Drive. Topped by southward- and westward-oriented shed roofs that will eventually hold solar collectors, this part of the new building also houses a radio dispatcher’s office, equipment storage and cleaning stations.
The other half of the building has two entrances, the one on the south side leading to a full kitchen and a Community Room that could easily accommodate an augmented crew of volunteers in the event of an emergency such as a major ice storm. It’s also big enough to host training exercises when the folding tables and chairs are put away. While cautioning that any outside community use of the building would be restricted by the need to keep access clear as a “working firehouse,” Wirthmann added, “We’re hoping to be able to hold events.” He did not rule out the possibility of the Community Room becoming an additional polling site for the Town on Election Day. This space is also planned to become the permanent home of the award-winning 9/11 quilt honoring first responders that was donated to the NPFD by master quilter Sue Korycki.
The east entrance to the new building leads to a long hallway with a suite of six offices and a central conference table on the right, followed by accessible bathrooms with showers, IT and records rooms, a large exercise room to help keep firefighters fit and a Day Room with amenities for volunteers who have time to kill in between emergency calls. There’s a snack bar with sink and mini-fridge, five recliners in front of a large flatscreen TV and a long wall, as yet unfinished, meant to hold trophy cases, according to Wirthmann.
Just before the hallway ends, one encounters the janitor’s and quartermaster’s closets and the Gear Room, featuring three dozen steel mesh cubicles where firefighting outfits hang at the ready. Once suited up, the volunteers pass through a smaller hallway with a charging station to collect their radios before emerging into the Apparatus Bay.
The layout is designed for efficiency, both in terms of response time and energy use. Designed by Alfandre Architecture with plenty of input from the NPFD, the building complex is “ultra-energy-efficient,” built of insulated concrete foam blocks, according to Rick Alfandre. “Even if the power goes down, the people in this building will stay comfortable for days.” The architect praised Tom Chesser, project manager at the Palombo Group, for having “organized all the people in the sandbox.” He also gave credit to project partners Ashley Mechanical, Green Meadows, S & L Plumbing, Hudson Valley Electric and Meyer Construction, along with “lots of subs.”
But part of the thinking behind the design was also to make the space comfortable and appealing to members of the all-volunteer Department. “It gives volunteers a safe place to go and a place they want to be,” said Supervisor Bettez. Will more pleasant surroundings while on duty make recruitment easier? “We’re hoping it will,” said Chief Wirthmann.
The large turnout at Saturday’s opening event, with parking overflowing into the lot of the Freihofer’s outlet across the street, certainly seemed to hold promise. It was a fine late summer day, with colored banners flapping in the light breeze, and even free refreshments: Stewart’s was handing out cups of ice cream and NPFD volunteers were popping corn and grilling burgers and hot dogs under the watchful eye of Ralph Scandariato, head of the event committee, which also included Bill DuBois, Tony Yenzer and Mike Cafaldo. Also getting a shout-out were Freihofer’s, ShopRite, Topps, K & E, PDQ and Sam’s Club, who donated to the cause.
New Paltz’s new Emergency Operations Center and Municipal Fire Department is located at 117 Henry DuBois Drive. To learn more about what’s involved in becoming a volunteer firefighter, visit https://newpaltzfire.org/join-new-paltz-fire.