The men and women of Nanuet that volunteer as firefighters are some of the most respected people in the community because they take time out to put their lives in danger for the safety of others. However, after a fire, they return to a firehouse that isn’t as safe as it should be.
Because of this, the Nanuet Fire Department met with the Nanuet Civic Association Thursday evening in the Community Room of the Nanuet Library to propose a new firehouse to replace the current firehouse that resides on Prospect Street. The design that was brought in is the third or fourth rendition so far. Commissioners Vincent G. Pacella, Harold E. Straut, and Socky Trojahn were the presenters for the plans of the new firehouse and went into great detail about the plans for the firehouse’s future.
“Our building on Prospect Street is starting to show its age,” said Straut, a life member of the fire department that joined in 1977. “I don’t want to sugarcoat it. It’s not going to be a cheap or inexpensive process.”
The entire expense would come to approximately $11.9 million based on bids received for the fourth quarter of 2011. However, this time would not be ideal to build it and bidding needs to be delayed. This estimate also doesn’t include the necessary temporary building, soft costs, nor any contingencies. The complete budget will be established once the location and design of the temporary building is finalized.
“The computer estimate that the architect uses—bear in mind that he uses a national program that calculates that you’re going to use x amount of materials in New York State in this time period—our estimated construction cost of 2011 is $11.9 million,” said Straut. “That was for the fourth quarter of 2011. Obviously we’re not going to make that. For 2012, we don’t have an estimate on that yet. We’re all Nanuet residents. We’ve all been here all our lives. We’re in the boat with everybody.”
“The good thing that we feel is working in our favor right now is that the tax bond rate is cheap so it’s cheap to borrow money and the construction industry is hungry and they’re looking for work. So we’re hoping we can get the bids in at a low price,” added Straut. “Our timeline has been pushed back. We don’t’ feel like we will properly be able to get our bids in or receive bids for the fourth quarter of 2011 that we previously hoped for.”
“That 11.9 million, that’s not just for construction and a new firehouse,” said Trojahn, a life member that joined the fire department in 1961. “That includes in it approximately $2 million for demolition of the old firehouse and also half a million in there for drainage to alleviate all the flooding problems.”
The fire district knows that it’s difficult to do this project in some very uncertain economic times, but feel that this issue cannot wait any longer. With the approval to construct a new Fire Station, they can ensure that in the future there will be a building that will safely house Nanuet’s fire fighters and their equipment so that they can continue to fight fires, respond to emergencies, and save lives in our community. They propose to fund the cost of this project through tax-free bonds that would be paid back over a 15-25 year period.
The Fire District intends to apply for a FEMA Station Construction Grant to help offset the cost of this project. The Fire District has also partnered with the Town of Clarkstown in the application of a FEMA grant, which could relieve a significant portion of the Town’s cost in the flood mitigation work. Additionally, they are in pursuit of financial incentives from the New York State Energy Research and Development Agency (NYSERDA) for the energy efficient features that have been designed into the project.
“We have filed for grants,” said Trojahn. “We’re waiting on a firehouse construction grant. We should hear back on that late spring, early summer. We are filing for local government money. We’re all volunteers here in Nanuet, live in Nanuet, we’re all in the same boat. I’ve been doing this for 32 years. We have a heart in this. We don’t like what we see that’s going on with the building; it’s a nice building but it’s falling down and we’re concerned about the safety of the volunteers.”
They have looked into postponing this project as have Fire Commissioners before them. However, after assessing historical construction cost increases, they have all concluded that construction costs will only increase the longer they wait.
Issue 1: Age
The firehouse in use today was built in 1943 and 1944 with additions in the 60s and the problems that the building now possesses show that the main building has lived its life.
“It’s almost a 70-year-old building for the main part of the firehouse,” said Pacella, a life member who joined in 1977.
“Like most buildings, you start to outgrow your house,” said Trojahn. “The fire house is no different. We’ve outgrown the fire house. The original base was built in 1944.”
- Original 2-story firehouse, constructed in 1943, 3996 square feet
- 1-story southerly addition, constructed in 1960, 1826 square feet
- 1-story westerly apparatus bay addition, constructed in 1965, 2405 square feet
- 1-story westerly apparatus bay addition, constructed in 1968, 907 square feet
- 1-story post office building (circa 1950), acquired in 1989, 2644 square feet
- 2-story addition (built between the former post office and the firehouse), constructed in 1989, 1511 square feet
- Total area of existing firehouse – 13289 square feet
Issue 2: Swamp Location, Settling & Flooding
Without proper support the firehouse has been sinking into it for the last 70 years. The floors have sunk on many occasions and flooding has also occurred in the firehouse, receiving up to 12 inches of water. It was stated by Straut that the town has helped to alleviate the flooding, but is still problematic. A deal is currently being worked with town to install a retaining pool. The sinking building and the flooding has become a structural safety issue for the firefighters.
Straut went into detail about this issue:
“The problem we have with this building and all the additions is the settling of the ground underneath it. We’ve had extensive engineering studies done, samples done. When they first built the firehouse, the ground underneath it, I believe, it was built on a swamp or an old landfill. It is sinking. Back in the late 80s, early 90s the fire company, itself, replaced one of the floors because we had severe cracking in the floors.
That floor today is sinking again along with other floors.The problem down there now is the flooding. We’re seeing storms during the summer, heavy rain that we haven’t seen in ages. We sometimes get up to almost foot of water in our building. We’ve had some drainage studies done and we’re working with the town. The drainage itself, the town has done some work to alleviate the flooding. It’s not complete, we have some issues downstream. The other side of convent road, we’ve been trying to get a retaining pond put in, but there’re some issues with Pfizer on that.
“There was a swamp there,” said Trojahn. “As I remember years ago, people use to dump refrigerators and everything else. As for the flooding, the new building will be raised up a good foot to a foot and a half. Going back to Hurricane Floyd, we area an evacuation center. Well, if we have a flooded firehouse and we’re bringing people through the flooded firehouse and try to get them upstairs and keep them there … this is something that can’t happen. We’ve been through this plenty of times. This didn’t happen years ago, but the town has grown since then.”
The most damaging storm was Hurricane Floyd in 1999 that left over three feet of water inside of the firehouse. Most heavy storms will produce some type of flooding in the area in front of the firehouse and in the rear parking lot area. These floods have left many parts of the building damaged (doors, walls, floors, offices etc).
More importantly, the safety of the firefighters is jeopardized and their response time is hindered when they must wade and drive through water as they respond to emergency scenes. The Town of Clarkstown and the Nanuet Fire District have worked together and have applied for a federal grant to pay for some of the needed upgrades to the surrounding drainage system.
Additionally, the lower level of the proposed firehouse will be 1.63 feet higher than the lower level of the existing building.
“We had soil and ground samples done in 2007 and in 2009 we had a hydro-analysis done,” said Straut
Soil samples and borings on the site have showed that the soil beneath the building has a tremendous amount of peat, which has settled. Structural walls have cracked, shifted, and settled. Parts of the floor in the bays have also dropped causing potential tripping hazards. Doors have racked and shifted, resulting in the need for constant adjustments and repairs.
Issue 3: Fire Truck Laws and Apparatus Bay Sizes
“Fire services, many may or may not know, were governed by some very stringent rules and regulations,” said Straut adding that the required exhaust systems and size of the trucks have changed over the years.
Trojahn went into details about the regulations that changed over the years:
“I can’t tell you the size and safety regulations that have increased on fire trucks. Going back, I’ve been here since ’61. Back then we all rode in the back of the fire trucks, they were low then. Back in the 80s, they came out with rules and regulations. You can’t ride in back anymore. They keep the firefighters inside.
The current trucks, we have to custom build them to fit them in our doors. We only have 10-foot doors so we have to custom make the trucks, 9-foot 8 to get them inside the door. The requirements the National Fire Protection puts on truck builders include things like exhaust, lighting, which just adds to the size, the width, the height and the length of the truck. We’re squeezing them in. The original two bays, we used to put three in there. We squeeze two in now.
We are running out of room. We’re required to have separate storage areas for our gear, washing machine and drying units in case anything is contaminated. But everything right now is kind of pushed together. We’ve been working hard and the fire company put a building committee together.”
Storage space for spare equipment, portable pumps, generators, hose and other equipment is extremely limited. Most firefighter turnout gear racks are located next to apparatus, which poses safety hazards to the firefighters when trucks are entering or exiting the bays.
Truck bays that were designed to store trucks that were 8 feet high and 25 feet long now hold trucks that are almost 10 feet high and 34 feet long, and weigh 4 to 5 times as much. A majority of the apparatus bay areas were built in 1943 and 1963 and are now too small to house modern firefighting equipment.
When the apparatus bays where built the size of the typical apparatus were much smaller than they are today. The bay doors are currently 10-feet high and 12-feet for the ladder truck. These height limitations limit how our fire apparatus are built and require costly customization. Although all of the apparatus met the NFPA standards when they were built they were limited in design.
Issue 4: Poor to Non-Existing Training Areas
Currently the only area available for classroom type training doubles as a meeting room. Additional mandates that have been placed on the fire service require more room and open space for training.
The new design still calls for the meeting room area to be used as a classroom when necessary but is designed to allow for the use of today’s electronic teaching media. A second multi-use room is also being incorporated into the design to allow for different types of training, an emergency evacuation area, and an area that could be used by local community groups.
“A lot of it is to be able to train new firefighters and the new firehouse will give us that,” said Straut.
Issue 5: Other Dangers & Problems
“We’ve had a lead paint and asbestos study done back in 2007. We identified some lead paint and asbestos in the fire house,” said Straut.
Most of the building’s systems, such as heating, lighting, air conditioning, windows, doors, standby power and plumbing fixtures, are either in need of replacement, not energy efficient, or both. The building is in need of electrical updates, windows, insulation upgrades, kitchen upgrades, and added restroom/shower facilities. The HVAC systems are old, inefficient, and require constant repair.
There is a lack of privacy for firefighters (women and men must alternate their use and otherwise share common locker room and rest room facilities). The only designated restroom for women is on the second floor.
The age and size of the building also prohibit the installation of needed items such as showers and dressing areas for firefighting gear that are not in the vicinity of moving trucks, as well as male and female locker rooms for the physical fitness area.
None of the bathrooms meet ADA requirements: second floor restrooms are not accessible due to the absence of an elevator and first floor bathrooms have steps. None of the restrooms are sized for wheelchairs and/or walkers, nor do they include fixtures that are accessible to the physically disabled. There is no handicap access to the second floor where the meeting rooms and offices are located. Moreover, the lower level of the firehouse is comprised of several different floor elevations that cannot be traversed by those in wheelchairs or those with other physical disabilities.
The current building does not meet current building codes or the American with Disabilities Act.
“We went out and did our homework,” said Straut. “We were hoping to go before the taxpayers this year to ask permission to borrow money to build the firehouse.”
“We just hired an architect and we just had a few studies done. In 2005, we hired, Battoglia Lanza (Architectural Group, an architect out of Fishkill, NY,” said Straut. “They’re well known architects of fire houses throughout the state and Connecticut. We’ve come up with a design. We’ve visited other fire houses throughout the county and talked to engineers, talked to architects, talked to other firefighters, getting their thoughts, their input.
Battoglia Lanza will review the current building and design a new building on the current site that would not only serve the needs of the Nanuet Fire District now but also the needs of the District and the community for at least the next 50 plus years.
"So far we have invested in this project, between $350-400,000,” said Straut referring to the past five years. “The consultants, the studies, the design phases for the firehouse and do we sit on our money and wait it out or do we go forward with it. We hear mixed reports on the economy and we don’t really know which way to go and need your input.”
“As the firehouse is being contructed, we’ll need a temporary firehouse to house our trucks to respond for 18 months,” said Straut. “That’s the estimated time of construction. We’re currently negotiating with the Metro North Railroad. We’re waiting on some final permission from them to build a temporary firehouse at the end of the commuter lot.”
It is also very important to understand that the District will have to make arrangements for a temporary firehouse in the vicinity so that services can continue to be provided to the community while demolition and construction are occurring at the existing firehouse site. Accordingly, we are attempting to secure a rent-free site where a temporary rental structure can be assembled for such use. Refer to the Q&A below for more information and ideas about this.
Site of the New Firehouse
Commercial property that would be suitable for the construction of a new firehouse in Nanuet is sparse. In order to maintain their exemplary response time, the fire company has decided to rebuild the new firehouse on the site of the current one. Refer to the Q&A below for more information and ideas about this.
Details of the New Firehouse
- The 23,584 square foot, two-story firehouse will meet the spatial and other requirements of our project program, which took us years to develop.
- The building’s form is coordinated with the site’s configuration, which will allow us to park fire trucks outside without adversely affecting traffic or necessary lines of sight. The arrangement will also provide physical and visual relief to truck operators as they exit the firehouse and enter the street.
- By raising the first floor of the building 1.63 feet and replacing the storm drainage system (from the site through the train station) the flooding problem will be resolved.
- It will include a much needed training facility and meeting room for officers and volunteers:
- Increased storage room.
- Improved efficiency in energy conservation and climate control.
- Appropriate number of restroom facilities for volunteers.
- The use of pile foundations will provide adequate support of the structure and trucks through the poor soils and avoid settlement that would otherwise cause structural distress and cracking of the slabs and walls.
- The sizes and arrangement of the firematic spaces will accommodate the larger trucks and the additional equipment that we need in order to provide safe, quick, and quality emergency services to the community. The types, sizes, and arrangements of other spaces will facilitate the administrative, operational, and training functions of the District and Fire Company, as well as provide space for community use.
- The building can be used as an emergency shelter during disaster events.
- The traditional style of the building will contribute to the Town’s revitalization and development goals for the community.
- Given the type of construction that is proposed the new building should continue to be an asset to the taxpayers for more than 50 years.
- A state of the art communications facility will handle anticipated upgrades required by national emergency management laws.
Q&A (between the fire commissioners and the public)
Q: This is all going to fit on that same land?
Q: What’s the maximum life expectancy of what we have currently?
A: As the way it is right now, we’re putting money into it each year. Life expectancy? We’ll keep dumping money into as long as we can. One part of the bay where our ladder truck is, we found out about two weeks ago that the entire back section of the roof has rotted out. We don’t have the price on what it would take to fix that yet.
Q: Do you have a ballpark for what it would be for a taxpayer for a year?
A: No, I don’t want to venture a guess as to what it would be. I don’t want to give anyone an incorrect number. We are going to have more meetings, and at those meetings we will have bond councils. And they will be able to answer these questions. I don’t’ want to say it’s going to cost you x amount a year and then two months later, change that number. It’s not fair to you and it’s not fair to us.
Q: I’m wondering if the taxpayers of Nanuet is going to be able to afford it at this time. With Pfizer shrinking 2/3s and the Nanuet school district telling us already that our taxes are going up and the Nanuet mall … we have really been hurt in the last couple of years. I would really like to see this happen, but I don’t know if this is the time
A: I agree, we mentioned that this is a terrible time to bring this forward. We feel that, after speaking with our engineers, architects and commissioner, the longer we wait the price of construction is going to go up. It’s not going to get any cheaper. At some point you have to bite the bullet. It’s a tough time, we don’t know what’s going to happen to Pfizer.
We’re at the point where we’re putting good money into bad.
I can say that when you look at your tax bill and look at your fire tax, we’re a good bargain. Cheapest line item on the tax bill. “Thanks to the volunteers,” added an audience member.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Q: If the new trucks are bigger and heavier, if this ground is a swamp and unstable, what’s to prevent 20 years from now the floor sinking again?
A: I can quote the architect, Pilings (or Pile foundation) will be drilled in and the firehouse will be put on top of it. They have to go 27 feet down to the bedrock and they’ll put the slab right on top of it. The pilings will be screwed into the bedrock.
We’re centrally located in Nanuet and all of these studies that we’ve done feel like we should stay there.
Q: If we don’t learn from the mistakes of our past, we’re doomed to repeat them. To spend 12 M dollars to put this site back where it is, when we know that it’s swamp. I think it’s pure folly. I’m not against putting up a new firehouse, but just not on the same spot.
A: The flooding issue is being addressed by raising the firehouse 1.63 feet. I can only speak for what the architect told us. The pilings that we’ll be using is similar to what the Palisades mall is using. The Palisades center is not sinking, the parking lot is, because it’s not supported. The mall itself is rock solid. He said that we can dig everything out and put soil in there or put pilings. The least expensive way is to put pilings there.
Q: Can you give us more examples of places where these pilings have worked?
A: Certainly, we can contact our architects about that. The next meeting, you’re more than welcome to attend.
Q: Do you have news for a temporary site?
A: Yes, we’re looking for spots for an 18 or 20 month site.
Q: Have you thought of everything including another site. The Nanuet school district has 37 acres that they bought about five years ago. It may not be centrally located, but you won’t be dealing with swamp. The palisades mall is built on a swamp and is going down every year a few inches.
A: As far as property goes, we did look at others around the area. There’s nothing available. The problem with finding another piece of property is that the response time. Convent road is not the ideal road to be going up and down with an emergency vehicle. Where the firehouse is now is where our membership is located. Put it up on Convent road for a permanent place, you already have longer response time because they will have to travel further to get to the firehouse.
Q: Have you spoken to the school district or to Pfizer. They’re winding down and they’ve got a lot of property.
A: We did speak with Pfizer and Pfizer has that park. That section of property is 37 acres. They’re not interested in splitting up 37 acres to sell a little piece of the park. We’ve approached them on that.
The school district, again is up on convent road, we haven’t discussed it with them because it’s not an ideal site for a firehouse as far as response time is for us. We’ve discussed it, but haven’t approached them yet.
Q: The ambulance corps moved into that new place. Did they own their old building?
A: Yes they owned it, but that location would be too small.
Q: What about taking a commuter parking lot that’s located centrally such as the one across from Chase bank. Take the parking lot, which you would have no demolition issues, I don’t know if it’s state, county or local property, but put your building there.
A: That was discussed with Mr. Holbrook when he was supervisor and we realized that wasn’t going to work. Once you leave the firehouse, you have to get the firemen to the firehouse. It’s a volunteer organization and from where everyone lives, we’re looking at a much longer response time.
Q: What about MRO?
A: The problem there is the land out there is a dumping area. I don’t’ think the land will even be suitable to put a temporary structure there.
The temporary structure will be a bubble building if you will, it’s light structural steel covered by pc vinyl. it’s like dropping it right on the parking lot and that’s going to be our home for awhile.
Q: With the Nanuet mall downsizing, is there possibly an area there we can utilize? It’s centrally located on Middletown road and in the same response time for your members?
A: The mall would be an ideal location. We’ve approached the mall. The problem is, Simon (group that owns the mall except for Macy’s and Sears) doesn’t own most of the parking lot. Believe it or not, 90 percent of their property, the building itself sits on.
Macy’s and sears do own their own respective parking lots.
We did approach Macy’s for our temporary firehouse and believe it or not, we had an agreement. The store manager was all for it, right down to corporate in Herald Square was all for it. We went as far as having a site plan to go to the town of Clarkstown with. And then unfortunately, the lawyers from Macy’s out in Ohio got a hold of it and killed the whole project. They’re worried about lawsuits so that went out the window.
I did ask the mall two weeks ago about building on Middletown Road, the old dental offices. They’re vacant now and the nursing school is moving out. It’s a great spot. They’re not interested in selling it. They have corporate plans for that building.
Q: I know New York City got a lot of bad flak when they closed down the firehouses and I understand the response time changes because of that. Has any thought been given to consolidating the fire districts and the response time will be longer but you might save millions of dollars. I’m just trying to brainstorm with you because I think the way of the future is consolidation, volunteer fire department or paid, the public is going to look at it very closely.
A: Consolidation has been talked about in Rockland County. I think before we see a paid fire department, consolidation will have to happen. Is now the time for consolidation? I personally don’t think it is. It’ll really take a lot of work. We’re all very large fire districts and to make just one district out of that or chop it up into two, we’re talking about going over town boundaries, that makes it a little more harder. Consolidation is definitely something that’s been talked about.
Q: your figure doesn’t include the site acquisition because you’re going to build on where you are right now, but if you were to build it somewhere else, you’ll have to figure in site acquisition costs. Do you have the power of condemnation where if the neighbors don’t want to move out or sell to you, you can have their land condemned and you can build and have the site that you want.
A: we have the authority to do that, but we don’t want to do that. That would be an absolute last resort. We’re all in this for public safety and I would hate to go to a business owner and have to say that we’re going to take your property and give you market value for it. It doesn’t make us look good and it’s a no-win for anyone. We have looked at condemning the building in the back of the firehouse but People don’t like that (condemnation) we felt it wasn’t the right way to go.
Q: If we go back to condemnation, I don’t know what the market value today is of the Nanuet Mall parking area, but for the small piece that you want to put the firehouse on, I think they’d be happy to get an offer from you and sell it rather than risk condemnation. It’s a disaster zone today, they couldn’t sell that mall or that shopping center for zilch and as far as I’m concerned, you can negotiate a good deal for getting a portion of that parking lot and don’t worry about the lawyers, say “we’re buying, you don’t have to worry about liabilities.”
A: That’s certainly something we can look into. That’s why we came before you tonight to get ideas like this. We’re trying to cross our Ts and dot our Is but we need your support to get this done.
After all was said and done, Rockland County Legislator Bob Jackson chimed in with his past experience in the fire district:
“I was a member of the Nanuet fire district for six years and that building is in disrepair. The stairway that goes upstairs, if you look at the level at the top, it’s at an angle and I was just there for the hostage situation and the door has dropped about a foot. So the building is moving on them. It’s a dangerous situation and basically it’s our tax money fixing it.
“I know these other spots sound good, but being a retired New York CIty firefighter, response time is critical and the men and women that come down to that firehouse live usually in the general area. For us to combine with south Spring Valley or another fire district, we’d have to change laws and that would take years to even think about doing that.”
“They serve, they protect us and like Harold said, it’s the cheapest thing on our tax bill. And say it is 12 million or 14 million, I think when they come back with that number per household, it’s not going to be huge. These people, they volunteer, they’re not paid, they give up their time.”
If it wasn’t for Alex Gromack, the flooding would be really bad. He’d done so much.
“We’re looking for input, some ideas,” said Straut. We need some input from the public. We’re going to have further public meetings at the fire house probably in the next two to three months. We want to show everyone what’s going on at the firehouse.”
We welcome any questions, comments or suggestions that you may have. If you would like further information you can contact us at:
Nanuet Fire District, P.O. Box 119, Nanuet, NY 10954
845-623-8318 (phone & fax)
Fire District meetings are held on the second Tuesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. at the Nanuet Fire House on Prospect Street.