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New Williamstown fire station moves closer to design phase

Work could begin as soon as 2023

WilliFirehouse1

The current Williamstown Fire Station was built in 1950. This fall, town residents will decide whether to approve a $20 million bond package that would fund the construction of a new station.

WILLIAMSTOWN — In 2022, voters likely will be asked to approve the money to build a new fire station on Main Street, at a potential cost of about $16 million.

A smaller station was estimated to cost about $10 million in 2008, but at that time the design didn’t meet a number of needs that since have arisen.

If the taxpayers approve the bond program in 2022 and there are no delays, work could begin as early as 2023, according to Elaine Neely, chairwoman of the Williamstown Fire District Building Committee.

On Wednesday, the committee unanimously approved the building-needs plan. It now will go before the Prudential Committee for its approval. Once that is done, work will begin on the actual architectural and engineering designs.

The vote means the committee has concluded the process of determining what sort of spaces are needed to address the needs of the firefighters and the community, how many vehicles will be housed there, and how best to minimize nonrenewable energy usage.

Recently, the fire district agreed to house two vehicles for the Williamstown Forest Warden, which also would need to be included in the design.

A 2019 report conducted by Municipal Resources studied the readiness and effectiveness of the Williamstown Fire Department. After evaluating the structures in town and the department’s facilities, apparatus and operations, it found the town to be at “moderate to high level of risk.”

It was because of issues outside its control, such as an inadequate and outdated fire station.

The 5,000-square-foot fire station was built in 1950. The three-bay station isn’t big enough to house the four firetrucks and, at the same time, safely accommodate firefighters gearing up for a call.

“The Water Street Fire Headquarters no longer provides efficient and effective shelter for fire apparatus and equipment,” the report reads. “Current facility has no room for expansion, not energy efficient, lacks space on apparatus floors (the three bays) and throughout the facility. Heating, electrical and plumbing systems are outdated and out of building codes.”

“It’s terrible we’ve been letting people risk their lives by working for us,” Neely said.

According to Bob Mitchell, of Mitchell Associates Architects, the new building would have to include more and bigger vehicle bays, and include a facility design that contains the contaminants that firefighters and their gear are exposed to when fighting fires. That means a contained area, or hot zone, that includes the vehicle bays, he noted during an appearance at a committee meeting Dec. 1.

Upon returning from a fire, firefighters would dismount, move to a decontamination room to discard their gear, which would move into the laundry area for decontamination and cleaning. The firefighters would move into the shower units, scrub off contaminants that can pass through the skin, and then move out of the hot zone to don clean clothes.

Many airborne materials firefighters typically are exposed to during structure fires can be harmful, including benzine, asbestos, formaldehyde, cadmium, styrene and arsenic. If not handled properly, those materials could be spread to homes and other locations as firefighters return from a fire, Mitchell said.

He noted that nationally, 55 percent of retired firefighters are diagnosed with cancer due to exposure to harmful materials.

“It’s a stunning number,” Mitchell said.

Every aspect of the building will be carefully analyzed for efficiency, effectiveness, training needs, and health and safety, he said. Taking into account the stated needs for the building, the materials needed and inflation, Mitchell’s initial, unofficial estimate of the cost came to nearly $16 million, although that number likely will change as the process moves forward. The final cost estimate will come after the architectural and engineering designs are complete.

The intention is that the final design will yield a permanent building that meets the needs of the community in perpetuity, Mitchell said.

The two-story building will include small bunkrooms for up to eight people, anticipating a time when volunteers no longer are enough to staff the department.

Committee member David Moresi said he anticipates that full-time firefighters will be a part of the department “within 10 years.”

Other spaces include administrative spaces, meeting rooms, training spaces, vehicle bays and plenty of storage. Lack of storage space leads to inefficient use of the building that could defeat the purpose of other spaces, Mitchell noted.

The new station would be built on a vacant parcel owned by the fire district on Main Street, bordered by Linear Park Drive on the east and Aubuchon Hardware to the west.

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or 413-281-4622.

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