By Eric Francis
WEST WINDSOR – Although the West Windsor Firehouse is now back in service despite the deluge that rolled through it, serious questions have been raised about whether the time has come to abandon the present location for higher ground.
“I think the building is toast,” West Windsor Selectboard Chairman Tom Kenyon, a long time member of the fire department, said this past week. “Now you can stand at the fire station and look west and see the Mill Brook. There used to be a hill between us that was like 25 feet high and now it’s gone. It’s strange to look clear to the Grange Hall where you can see the water running into Beaver Brook. It’s a disaster.”
When the original part of the present fire station was built in the early 1960s it was just a pad of concrete poured over gravel and the subsequent additions done in 1979 and 1986 were done the same way, Kenyon explained. However, he said in those earlier days there was more flood plain land around that section of the Mill Brook which in the intervening years has been lost to changes in Route 44 made by the state and the construction of a pond used by the ski resort.
“Now there is no more floodplain, which means the water comes down higher and faster,” Kenyon said. “I never would have believed it but that water went right through that hill and right in front of the fire station (peeling the pavement right off the parking ramp) and there is nothing to stop it from doing it again.”
Kenyon said any real effort to stick with the existing station would be “a bit like when you’ve had a building fire and you stand around afterwards and say, ‘The roof is still good.” It’s hard for building owners to admit, and it’s hard for the fire department in this case too, but as far as I’m concerned the building is history. I can’t imagine the insurance company insuring it again after they look at the situation and determine that the fire station now sits dead on in the middle of the brook.”
Those responsible for the fire station’s insurance, which is obtained through the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, have not weighed in yet on the claim that was submitted following Tropical Storm Irene; however, West Windsor Fire Chief Mike Spackman said this week that he is not expecting a big check and, as far as he is concerned, that makes any talk of any immediate changes premature.
“The way it looks right now we are going to keep it because I don’t imagine our insurance company is going to pay us enough to move it, but we haven’t heard back from the insurance company on that option and obviously we have to look at all the options,” Spackman said, continuing, “ There’s really no reason to stay other than I don’t think our insurance company is going to say, ‘We’ll give you $400,000 and you guys go find another place to live.’ I don’t see that happening, because, even though it looks bad and there is a lot of work to it, the damage to the station isn’t that great.”
Spackman said despite the nearly three feet of water that got inside, the structure is essentially sound and additional concrete was poured on Tuesday to shore up the footing.
“It’s coming back into shape. We’ve actually stripped the station. We took it upon ourselves to get the insulation out and we are back to stud walls and now it’s just a matter of disinfecting it for mold and putting everything back for winter,” Spackman said, adding, “No matter what we decide to do in the future, we still have got to have a place this winter to call home.”
Spackman said he agreed with Kenyon’s assessment that further high water events at the station are now more likely.
“I think our potential (for problems) is three or four times what it was, just because our upstream protection from that berm is gone,” Spackman said. “We have to get the Army Corps of Engineers involved and hopefully re-channel that brook so it doesn’t come right in over us.”
Currently the West Windsor Volunteer Fire Department’s more than two dozen members operate four fire trucks – a pumper, a tanker, a forestry truck, and the large ladder truck which is currently being kept at the town highway garage while the repairs are being carried out at the fire station in Brownsville.
Kenyon said that although the hurricane actually did the damage this was far from the first time the department has had implement their pre-plan to evacuate the big red trucks from the station because of concerns about rising water on the Mill Brook.
“Every time in the spring when the ice comes out we sweat it. Every time there is a freshet in the summer we sweat it,” Kenyon said. He said the town needs to find some space “higher and drier” in Brownsville and build a new station which extra room for the town’s FAST Squad, the first aid stabilization team that responds to assist the area’s ambulance services with medical emergencies.
Chief Spackman urged that any new building go all the way and include space for law enforcement and possibly other town functions as well. “If I have my say, I think it should be a public services building and do everything, because this town is gonna have to have police eventually and room for the FAST Squad and the fire department. Do everything in one rather than have a whole bunch of roofs.”
This article first appeared in the September 15th print edition of the Vermont Standard.