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Northwest debate heats up after house fire

August 18, 2018

GREENWICH — When a fire tore through a home on Locust Road last week, the structure ended up a total loss.

The house was unoccupied at the time of the blaze, so no injuries were suffered. But in the days that followed, backcountry neighbors gazing at the charred skeleton visible through the greenery on the otherwise manicured street were apt to wonder: What happens next time?

And they were likely to ask a question they have asked many times in the past: When are we going to get fire protection in this part of town?

The push to build a northwest Greenwich fire station seemed over after the Representative Town Meeting cut funds to allow for one in 2016 and 2017, final setbacks capping years of frustration for northwest leaders. But those leaders didn’t give up on the idea, and are ready to bring it back before town government.

A sense of the meeting resolution urging First Selectman Peter Tesei to include funding for a new fire station in next year’s budget will be considered by the RTM on Sept. 17. Members of District 10, which covers the northwest part of town, have mounted a publicity blitz to build support for a station they say is badly needed.

“Northwest Greenwich has not only 3,000 residents who pay an awful lot of taxes in town, but it is also home to schools and nursing homes and churches and people who are traveling through to get to the airport,” District 10 Chair Gerald Anderson said. “There are a lot of people to protect there from all over town.”

District 10 members, who drafted the resolution, also created a pamphlet outlining their argument for a firehouse, and have set up a website (www.nwfirestation.org) with a petition in support of a station.

They are looking to reverse the two recent defeats that stopped their efforts after they appeared to be gaining momentum. In 2016, the RTM cut funding to purchase 4.76 acres of land on King Street for a new fire and GEMS station, calling instead for a study of town fire services to determine whether the station was needed. Tesei included that in his next budget, but in 2017, the RTM voted to cut the study, stopping the project again.

The building at 15 Locust Road, owned by Anne Pauletti according to records from the town Assessor’s Office, includes a house and apartment units. It was considered a total loss.

Firefighters from Glenville, the nearest firehouse, were able to reach the blaze at 12:03 a.m. Aug. 10 — 11 minutes after it was reported. The industry goal for reaching a fire is about four minutes. Most of Greenwich is reachable from a firehouse in four to eight minutes, except the northwest, according to material provided by District 10 members.

Member Louisa Stone, a former chair of the town Planning and Zoning Commission, has been a driving force behind the renewed firehouse effort, which she pointed out did not start last week. Calling the fire “an unfortunate coincidence” Stone said the latest push to get the town to support a northwest fire station began in April.

Even if the fire had not happened, Stone said she and her District 10 colleagues believe the RTM is more receptive to the discussion.

“I think there was a mood of slash and cut when this was discussed two years ago,” she said. “There wasn’t time given to study this carefully. Now we can give this the time and attention it needs.”

Tesei has been a major proponent of the station in the past, along with Fire Chief Peter Siecienski, and said he is ready to push for it again if the RTM support is there, which will make reception to the sense of the meeting resolution a critical step.

“My support for a fire station in northwest Greenwich remains unchanged, as does the need for the establishment of a fire facility in that area of town,” he said. “I look forward to seeing whether the full RTM will support their colleagues from District 10 and their proposed sense of the meeting resolution. I am prepared to include a plan for a northwest station if the RTM demonstrates that it has had a change of heart on this important life safety issue.”

The past cuts for the fire station originated from the RTM’s Budget Overview Committee. Efforts to reach BOC Chair Lucia Jansen were unsuccessful.

For the project to move forward, it would have to be initiated by Tesei and passed by the Board of Estimate and Taxation before even getting to the RTM.

“During the budget process, the BET Budget Committee will consider the priorities presented by the First Selectman, Board of Education and other appointing authorities and fit them within a financial structure it believes is responsible, responsive to the needs of the taxpayers, and balances service levels and tax rates,” BET Budget Committee Chair Leslie Moriarty said.

BET Chair Jill Oberlander noted the finance board had supported both the purchase of the King Street land and the fire department study in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

“Should the first selectman include this project in his Fiscal 19-20 budget submission, BET members will carefully evaluate the cost, public service provided, and other community investment needs,” Oberlander said. “The circulated petition and RTM resolution will inform this discussion.”

Having the discussion now, six months before Tesei is scheduled to present his proposed 2019-20 budget and nine months before the RTM will hold its vote, will allow budget stewards to explore the issue properly instead of having a rushed discussion on the night of the budget vote, Stone said.

They are hopeful that the property on King Street, which is owned by the Fairview Country Club, can still be secured for a station.

“As far as we know the property is still available but that might change tomorrow,” Stone said. “That’s why we need to talk about this now.”

kborsuk@greenwichtime.com

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