East Berne aquires old site for future firehouse

EAST BERNE — The East Berne Auto garage is now the East Berne Fire garage, and the future site of a new firehouse.

In early June, the Berne fire district purchased for $135,000 the 24.67-acre property that had belonged to longtime East Berne firefighter and commissioner, the late James H. Figel. Figel first built the East Berne Auto garage in the 1960s.

When Figel died in 2011, his wife approached the district. Mary Alice Molgard, chairwoman of the Berne Fire District board of fire commissioners, said the new firehouse would require a tax increase. In recent years, she said, the district taxes have been increased very little.

Voters elect commissioners to the five-member board and approve all bonds in their respective districts.

Chief Scott Duncan of the East Berne Volunteer Fire Company expects a committee will be formed in October to direct the planning and fund-raising for the firehouse, which Molgard said could be more than seven years from completion.

Molgard said the district now has $17,000 in savings for the building. Its next expenditure will be for the remediation of contaminated soil at the new site. An additional $135,000 has been saved in its engine reserve fund for new equipment.

The current East Berne Firehouse sits above Route 443 on Main Street, less than a third of a mile away from the new property. One portion, with a garage that has been modified to accommodate a taller door height, was built in 1962. Another portion, built in the mid 1980s, has the company’s meeting room above a second garage.

The trucks idling in the garage as firefighters gather their gear for a call release exhaust that Molgard says can make it difficult to breathe.

“There’s always the possibility that fumes could come up into the meeting room, and we’re trying avoid that from happening,” said Molgard.

The nearby Berne firehouse, which serves a different company in the same district, was built in the late 1990s with the Plymo-vent system that ventilates exhaust out of the building. Installing the system in the current East Berne location, along with the handicap accessibility and improved kitchen and meeting space hoped for the Route 443 location, Molgard said, wouldn’t be as cost-effective as a new firehouse.

In addition to doors made for the larger size of new trucks, a two-sided driveway would improve access to the trucks, which now have to make a sharp turn onto Main Street.

“This is a very difficult location because the road is like an ox bow and it’s narrow,” said Molgard.

Duncan said the Figel property was home to a gas station until 1982, was vacant for a few years, then used by Hannan Paving and Sealing Co. before again remaining unused for around 4 years.

A house on the new property, Duncan said, was “vacant and crumbling” since 1979; it was demolished along with a structure near the garage that now is a pile of cinder blocks.

“We’re trying to make it presentable for right now,” said Molgard. The garage will be used as storage — for a lawn mower, a snow blower, and, possibly, an antique truck now snugly parked under a wooden shed at the current firehouse. 

More Hilltowns News