East Berne Fire Company asking $2.7M for new building

The Enterprise — Noah Zweifel

Tight fit: Modern fire apparatus is hard to fit in the current East Berne firehouse.

EAST BERNE — It doesn’t take long for East Berne Volunteer Fire Company Chief Scott Duncan to show why he thinks the company is justified in asking taxpayers to fund a new $3 million building.

Pointing to a hole the size of a giant’s fist in the slant-ceiling of the Main Street fire house’s upper garage, Duncan told The Enterprise that it came about when a driver from another fire company — naive to the space — backed a truck up too far and its rear light went through the plaster. 

“Things are a little tight in here,” Duncan said. 

Fire Commissioner Mary Alice Molgard explained that the firehouse was built in the 1960s and, since then, as the role of firefighters expanded to include things like car and water rescues, fire vehicles have gotten larger to accommodate new tools and technologies, eventually becoming uncomfortably large for the rural fire house. 

Too smart to be stumped by a building, the fire company has made various ad hoc modifications over the years to prevent it from seriously inhibiting their work, as well as to minimize any potential damage. Duncan pointed out several of these accommodations as he gave The Enterprise a tour of the facility.

Tire blocks have been placed in the spot next to where the truck bumped the wall because behind those blocks is a furnace. The women’s bathroom — right in the same area — has been pared back about two feet to allow more clearance. And still the company’s wildland search-and-rescue truck has to sit outside every day of the year.

In addition to the inadequate space, the current building is not in line with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prevents the company from holding certain events, such as non-fire district elections, which now take place at the Berne Fire Company house on Canaday Hill Road. 

“We had to stop [hosting] the board of elections because we can’t get handicapped people in here,” Duncan said. Events that do occur, like fundraising meals, tend to clog up Main Street, he added.  

So, the company is ready to move. 

It plans to build a new station at 792 Helderberg Trail, the property of a former gas station that the company purchased almost a decade ago in anticipation of a building upgrade. The current building can’t be expanded because it’s close to a creek and its infrastructure is old and faltering, according to a fact sheet from the company. 

The “new” property is much larger than what the fire company needs, so the Regional Hilltowns Fire Training Center was built there about five years ago as a temporary structure, and Molgard said the goal is to make it permanent. 

All the necessary work on the property has been done, Molgard and Duncan said, including environmental and archeological reviews, the removal of over 1,000 tons of soil contaminated by the gas station, and traffic studies.

All that’s left is for adult residents who live within the 100 square-mile fire district to vote on the $2.7 million bond the company is asking for; the remainder of the cost will be covered by the fire station’s capital improvement reserve. 

The vote will take place at the Main Street station on July 12 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Molgard said the estimated tax impact would be less than $100 per year for an average homeowner, but they “don’t know for sure yet.”

No residents attended the informational meeting this week, but, Molgard said, some had attended an earlier session in April. 

“We have not gotten any negative [response] at all,” Duncan said.

If the company succeeds in getting the bond approved, Duncan said that the current firehouse will likely be sold, and that a heating-and cooling company has expressed interest in buying. 

“It’s got some pretty cool value for something like that,” he said. 

More Hilltowns News

  • Berne-Knox-Westerlo’s proposed budget, with a 5.09 percent tax increase that required it to be passed with a 60-percent approval rate, failed to reach that threshold by a mere eight votes. The district will have to decide whether to have residents vote on a new budget in June, or move directly to a contingency budget. 

  • The Carey Institute for Global Good had jettisoned much of its core programming during the pandemic years while it figured out its own future. It has now changed its name to Hilltown Commons, and partnered with three different local organizations that now call its Rensselaerville campus home. 

  • The United States Postal Service had issued flyers earlier this year about a potential relocation and was seeking input from the community about what sites might be suitable. 

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