Station 2 as it looks today. Photos courtesy of the Hicksville Fire District
Next Wednesday, the Hicksville Fire District's Board of Commissioners will hold a public meeting to provide the community with a status report regarding its efforts to find a viable solution to the overcrowded conditions at Station #2. According to fire district officials, the Feb. 18 meeting will provide the community with a chance to view revised plans, in their current and revised form, and have an opportunity to voice any opinions or concerns they may have.
At this time, H2M Group, the architectural and engineering firm with environmental expertise retained by the district last summer to assist with the assessment of the project, will present revised plans for the firehouse as well as findings of a study it conducted to evaluate the feasibility of using alternative sites for the firehouse. A report depicting the overcrowded conditions of the existing firehouse and the need for renovated facilities will also be presented at the meeting.
According to district officials, the revised plans are the result of residents' concerns and opposition to a preliminary proposal presented to them in June 2003. At this time, many residents living in the area opposed the project for several reasons, including the inappropriateness of a large building in a residential area, the lack of available parking and, perhaps most important, the threat of condemnation or eminent domain, a process by which a municipality such as the fire department can purchase private property for public use from the owner without the current owner's agreement to sell.
The latest proposal for a new Station 2 calls for the construction of a new, two-story building with two bays facing Briggs Street.
Robert Dwyer, chairman of the board of fire commissioners, and newly-elected Fire Commissioner Charley Hearon met with the Hicksville Illustrated News on Tuesday to discuss the revised proposal. A meeting and tour of Station 2 was conducted in an effort to provide the Illustrated with a chance to see the plans and the conditions of the firehouse and inform the public of the changes to the proposal prior to next Wednesday's meeting.
According to Dwyer, the overall proposal is a "large scale project" that has been revised numerous times since June to include the concerns and suggestions of area residents. "They wanted to know why we needed a three bay firehouse ... They wanted us to reduce the size of the firehouse. The community felt that it did not have to be that big. They wanted us to research the brownfield sites and the sump [at Ronald and Miller]," said Dwyer, adding that relocating the firehouse is not an option because, according to the town, such properties are not for sale at this time.
He added that H2M also looked into the possibility of spinning the firehouse so that its front faced Woodbury Road, but the amount of space was not sufficient for the trucks to exit safely. "It's not recommended by H2M because there is not enough ramp space to safely exit the building because of the footprint it sits on," Dwyer said, adding, "We took every piece of information from the [June] meeting and went back to H2M to get answers for everything. Now we feel confident that we have the answers to all their questions. I think [H2M's] plans now meet all of the concerns."
As a result, the new proposal calls for the construction of a 35-foot two-story building with two bays, both of which would face Briggs Street. The current building is a little under 25 feet high, the typical second-story home in the area measuring between 26 and 28 feet. The basement would incorporate an officers room, company room, mechanical room, storage, parts of the staircase and an exercise room. The first floor would be all apparatus, bunker gear and equipment while the second floor would include a formal meeting room, lounge and kitchen. An elevator, as required by both the Americans with Disabilities Act and Town of Oyster Bay building codes, would also run up from the basement to the second floor and there would be restrooms on all three floors. To do so, H2M has proposed demolishing the current building and constructing a new facility on the footprint of the current firehouse.
Hearon, however, is against constructing a new firehouse with a second floor. Instead, he would like to see the firehouse renovated so that it has a full basement and third bay. "I would like to see a set of plans for a one story building with a full basement," he said. "H2M should look into the cost and feasibility of removing the existing first floor and digging out the basement, installing a new first floor and leaving the exterior the way it is."
Hearon added that "Not having that third bay is a step backwards" since the additional bay would enable the station to house a van to take volunteers to calls in the event that the trucks are out. "It is what the members asked for," he said.
Constructed in 1956, Station 2 is located at the intersection of Briggs Street, Woodbury Avenue and Ronald Avenue. The firehouse currently houses the department's Independent Engine & Hose Company 2 and has approximately 30 active members.
While a larger firehouse will most definitely boost member morale, fire officials state it is a matter of necessity, not preference, as limited space is becoming a safety hazard. Currently, all available space in the firehouse used for storage has long since exceeded its capacity. Access around the firehouse is also difficult, said Dwyer, as he demonstrated how members cannot open the doors of the fire truck at the same time someone is trying to get in as there is not room. In addition, the bumper on the company's ambulance was cut in order to make it fit into its bay and members cannot get their bunker gear on at the same time as there is not enough room between the racks.
"There isn't enough room because of new trucks which are bigger than they were years ago. There is new gear and equipment that we are now required to have [as well as] bunker gear and air packs," said Dwyer. "We have to attack the safety issues that address our department. That's very important."
While fire officials stress that a new house would provide their members with safer conditions, residents fear that construction of a new building will affect their quality of life. Those residents in the immediate vicinity of the house, however, also fear that the department will exercise their right, as a municipality, of eminent domain and condemn homes to expand the firehouse.
Dwyer, in an effort to clear up all misconceptions that the fire district is looking to obtain residents' homes to expand, stated that if "properties became available we would consider purchasing them," but are not looking to condemn land for either the construction of a new firehouse or to provide additional parking. "We have no plans to do that at this time," he said.
For the past year, a common gripe among residents has been that the fire district has not involved them in their planning process and that the lines of communication have not been open. As a result, Dwyer stated that he will go back to the board to determine whether forming a planning committee comprised of residents and volunteer firefighters and commissioners as well as development experts, representatives from the school district and town, is an option at this time.
He added that prior to this point, the plans were too preliminary to present before a public committee, but that the district may be ready to now. "We are not against it," he said. "It's taken us to this point to form a committee. Now may be the right time."
Hearon, who is in favor of the committee, said, "You have to bring the people in and get them involved. Possibly, with their involvement, we can come to some type of agreement. Not including them and trying to guess about what they want is not to going to make them happy. We've got to get people involved."
In a prepared statement, Commissioner Anthony Wigdzinski said, " While the board of fire commissioners is committed to providing our volunteer firefighters with the best possible facilities, equipment and training to ensure their safety, we also remain sensitive to the concerns of the entire community. We have spent a lot of time thoroughly exploring and carefully reviewing all possible options and will continue this process, which must include comment from the community. Contrary to assertions that a decision has been made, no decision has been made in regard to the final form this project will take."
Wigdzinski added, "As a fire commissioner and former chief of the Hicksville Fire Department, I am sensitive to the needs of our volunteer firefighters and the needs of our community. I also understand our obligation to be good neighbors to those who reside in the vicinity of our fire stations."
The Feb. 18 meeting, which is open to the public, will take place at 8 p.m. at fire department headquarters at 20 East Marie Street. The public is invited to attend and will be given an opportunity to address the board. As of press time, residents in the vicinity of the firehouse should have received a letter from the board of commissioners informing them of the meeting.