By MADELINE HUGHES
Walk into the Shelburne Fire and Rescue buildings and every inch is packed. Currently, seven vehicles are packed in a fire station with six bays, and there are only a few feet between the bumpers of the ambulances at the rescue station.
“We couldn’t do an addition even if you wanted to,” Fire Chief Jerry Ouimet said. “We ship Engine 1 elsewhere during the winter. We are packed, bursting at the seams.”
Ouimet showed Shelburne News around the station last week, opening the doors to all the closets filled to capacity. One of two fire response boats sits between two vehicles, because it doesn’t need to go outside until spring. He explained that the boats come inside for the winter, putting pressure on precious storage space.
Down on Turtle Lane, the Shelburne Rescue Department faces similar issues. The former highway department building was converted into a “temporary rescue building 30 years ago,” Rescue Chief Jacob Leopold said. A lack of insulation means doors sometimes freeze shut in the winter, cabinets have to be kept open so pipes don’t freeze, and there are mice traps set up.
The fire and rescue departments hope to remedy their space issues with a combined station, which has been the plan for decades. But now their dream is inching closer to reality. The prime piece of land sought after by the fire and rescue departments for the proposed station has come on the market. Shelburne voters will decide on Town Meeting Day, March 5, if Shelburne will proceed in purchasing the land.
Late last year, Healthy Living Market CEO Eli Lesser-Goldsmith approached town officials with the possibility of a public-private partnership to develop a piece of land at the intersection of Shelburne Road and Longmeadow Drive. The grocery store chain hopes to develop its third location on the 4.8 acre parcel of land currently owned by Rice Lumber.
“We bought the land knowing that we would need to find a partner for part of the parcel,” Lesser-Goldsmith said. “We’re working with the town because we heard it was the number one preferred site for a new fire and rescue station and we want to be respectful of the town and its residents. To date we’ve not negotiated with any other potential partner because if the town wants it, we believe the town should have first opportunity to get it.”
Currently, Shelburne officials are asking voters if the town should enter into a purchase agreement with Healthy Living for $50,000. The money will go toward studies to make sure the land is adequate for building and subdivision permits.
Shelburne taxpayers will be asked to approve a $25,000 addition to the budget for the purchase agreement, while the remaining $25,000 will come from the rescue’s ambulance fund.
If the voters vote “yes” this year, they would then be asked on Town Meeting Day 2020 to bond for $650,000 to purchase a 2.23 acre portion of the land from Healthy Living. Currently one penny on the tax rate raises approximately $153,000, Director of Finance Peter Frankenberg said.
It’s a four-plus year process to get a new building, Ouimet explained.
“Healthy Living is committed to building a store in Shelburne and joining the community of Shelburne,” Lesser-Goldsmith said. “If the voters turn it down, we will seek another partner for the site. We want to see this through and hope the new Fire and Rescue station is part of the full site build.”
Planning for the future
Town officials first looked into a combined fire and rescue station with an official study in 2007. They analyzed the potential for seven different sites in Shelburne. Of those seven sites, the most desirable was 4188 Shelburne Road – the one that is currently up for sale.
“Financially, this might be one of the worst times, but we knew 12 years ago this was the best site,” Leopold said. He added that most of the seven sites in the study have since been developed in the last 12 years.
One site is still available, for a price. The Yankee Doodle Motel is one of the properties still on the market 12 years after the study and is currently listed for $795,000 on multiple commercial real estate websites.
Thinking proactively, the proposed fire and rescue site would allow the department to grow as needed in the coming years. Both Ouimet and Leopold said every year, trucks get bigger. For example, Shelburne’s Quint fire truck only fits into one bay at the current station, and drivers have to back it into the station because it would hit pipes or wiring in the ceiling. When a driver backs the Quint into the station they do it “very carefully,” because the engine is just six inches shorter than the opening for the station.
“We’ve outgrown the (fire) facility, and we don’t have handicapped accessibility,” Ouimet said. “If it doesn’t happen now it’s going to happen soon.”
Leopold said that if the rescue department wants to add another ambulance in the future, there wouldn’t be space in the current building.
A combined station also allows more grant opportunities for both departments, Leopold added, because many departments are going the route of combined stations. Also, if career firefighters are hired by the town in the future, typically they would be EMT certified to assist with rescue calls, Ouimet added.
Also, both chiefs said that a new facility would help attract and retain volunteers.
“We don’t pay our volunteers,” Ouimet said. “What’s a better way to show our appreciation than a new station?”
One without mice traps and nicer living quarters, Leopold added with a laugh.
For this year’s budget, the fire department took out the small stipends given to volunteers who staffed the station during the day, Ouimet said. He and Leopold added that they were extra mindful of their respective budgets because of the financial stress the town is under.
The rescue department decided to spend $25,000 from its ambulance budget towards the purchase agreement, hopefully showing the department’s dedication towards the project, Leopold said.
“All the members of fire and rescue are very aware of the debt situation the town is currently in and, between the two departments, most of us are voting residents of Shelburne,” Ouimet said. “While we all completely understand that this opportunity could not financially have come at a worse time, we do believe that this is the best opportunity we will have as emergency services to acquire the best location available for a future Fire and Rescue facility at a very reasonable cost to the taxpayers of Shelburne.”
The fire department currently has just over 30 volunteers on its roster. Rescue employs one paramedic, one part-time paramedic, nine per-diem employees and 20 volunteers.
Anywhere else to go?
Ouimet and Leopold acknowledge that development is affecting business. Each year, call volume for both departments increases.
The Rice Lumber property also has the added bonus of a traffic light. Engineering would be done to straighten Longmeadow drive and allow for better egress, Leopold said.
The 2.23 acres would enable the departments to build a big enough station to grow into. There would be a training space both indoors and outdoors, allowing department members to get trained closer to home. Currently the departments travel to other towns like Charlotte to train.
“We don’t want to be boxed in because of the town’s growth, we want to grow with the town,” Ouimet said.
The stoplight at the intersection is an important luxury to note, Ouimet and Leopold said. Each department currently has traffic issues surrounding their buildings. The fire department competes with Little League in the summer, and the rescue department competes with parents driving their kids to and from the Waldorf School during the school year.
“People blow through the stop sign” to the north of the rescue department, Deputy Rescue Chief Devin Major said. “There is a blind spot when people are coming from the school, and that stop sign is there to help. But when people don’t stop it creates more risk.”
Fire and rescue will be hosting an informational meeting Monday, Feb. 18, at 7 p.m. at the town offices. Members of the departments also welcome Shelburne residents to ask questions and visit the stations.
“Do not feel bad about walking into a station and asking questions. Yes, we are out in the community, but people don’t really know what goes on with emergency services. The biggest thing I see in the community is that people believe we are a career department and stationed out of the fire house,” Major said. “We aren’t.”