<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=915327909015523&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1" target="_blank"> Skip to main content
You are the owner of this article.
You have permission to edit this article.

Williamstown voters approve new fire station project during packed special town meeting

WILLIAMSTOWN — Voters turned out in the hundreds Tuesday night during a special town meeting, approving a proposal to build a new fire station.

The measure passed with an overwhelming majority. It needed two-thirds of the vote to pass, and far surpassed that. With 590 voters registered, and 541 votes cast, 509 people voted yes, and 32 people voted no.

WilliFD3 (copy)

Williamstown Fire Chief Craig Pedercini talks about how cautious they need to be when parking the fire trucks at the town's only fire station. They have only inches to spare in the back and on both sides.

Voters arrived in droves well before the vote, chatting with their neighbors and in some cases staging last-minute debates on the merits of a new fire station. Dozens of people were waiting in a line to check-in that extended beyond the school’s entrance, delaying the vote. People crowded the bleachers and along the walls in addition to sitting in the chairs in the middle of the gymnasium that were set up for the occasion.

Fewer than 10 people took part in the public comment before the vote. Scott McGowan, a frequent critic of the project, spoke out of order, according to the moderator, when he accused the fire district of a misinformation campaign.

Will Titus, a Williamstown firefighter and a senior at Williams College, is one of 11 college students volunteering with the department.

WilliFD1 (copy)

Williamstown Fire Chief Craig Pedercini tours the space where firefighters have to don their gear just inches from a parked fire truck at the town's only fire station. Frequently, they crowd into the changing space to change into their turn-out gear while trucks are prepped for departure.

“Even though we’ve done the best we can with the station, we have to reduce contamination. I can still smell the exhaust on my clothes when I take my gear off,” Titus said. “When you realize each room in the new station has a specific purpose to protect the physical and mental health of our firefighters, they no longer seem extravagant. Instead they just seem necessary.”

The Williamstown Fire Department, as well as the fire district, hoped residents would see the value in a proposed 22,000-square-foot, $22.5 million project. The Select Board ($225,000), as well as Williams College ($5 million) and The Clark Art Institute ($500,000) have pledged to donate a combined $5,725,000 to the project. That means the remaining $16,775,000 falls to taxpayers.

Estimates from the fire district, determined before The Clark Art Institute’s $500,000 pledge Monday night and the Select Board’s promise of American Rescue Plan money, the first year of payment would cost taxpayers about 30 cents per $1,000 in assessed valuation, the second year about 50 cents per $1,000 in assessed valuation.

“That means that a property valued at $200,000 would face an added assessment in each of the first two years of $60 to $100,” the department writes in answer to frequently asked questions.

After those first two years, taxpayers will be paying down a 25-year bond at a little less than $1 per $1,000 of property valuation.

Williamstown fire chief makes one more plea to voters for new station before town meeting

Fire Chief Craig Pedercini has been lobbying for the new station since 2006. He and the department waited, after voters narrowly defeated a measure calling for a new fire station in 2013, as Mount Greylock Regional School and the new police station were built. Proponents of the project point out that the current fire station was erected 73 years ago, and that the fire district has never borrowed for a capital project before.

There are roughly 25 volunteer firefighters in the Williamstown Fire Department. They responded to 241 calls last year, including 10 mutual aid calls.

The current station has a host of issues.

Fire trucks are packed tightly into the station’s three bays. In some instances there is not enough room to open two trucks that are side by side. The department’s equipment is stacked along the walls where there is room.

To access its ice rescue equipment, firefighters must move one of the trucks forward. The small training space among the truck bays is gone; in the back of the station is a sort of all-purpose meeting room. The station isn’t big enough to house the department’s four fire trucks and, at the same time, safely accommodate firefighters gearing up for a call.

The new fire station will have more space dedicated to decontamination. It will also have more space and rooms dedicated to specific functions such as laundry and exercise rooms, as well as a “ready room,” where firefighters wait to go out on a call. The chief, deputy chief and officers will have office and conference space.

A 2019 report by Municipal Resources Inc. evaluated the department’s facilities, apparatus and operations. It found the town to be at “moderate to high level of risk” of firefighter or civilian injury due to issues related to the inadequate and outdated fire station.

The facility has no room for expansion, is not energy-efficient and lacks space for larger firetrucks and storage. Heating, electrical and plumbing systems are outdated and in violation of OSHA and building codes.

Sten Spinella can be reached at sspinella@berkshireeagle.com or 860-853-0085.

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.