BURRILLVILLE – With plans underway to build a new hospital to replace the Zambarano unit of Eleanor Slater Hospital, the Pascoag Fire District is asking state officials to include an extra $2 million in the budget for a new structure on the campus to house fire equipment.
PFD Fire Commission Chairman Christopher Toti asked for support of the initiative from the Burrillville Town Council last week, noting that Sen. Jessica de la Cruz is submitting the request for funding.
Toti noted that fire trucks have long been located on the property, both for convenience – and historically to bring down insurance rates for both the hospital and surrounding residents.
“For years, the Wallum Lake Fire Department operated on the hospital grounds, and many of the employees were volunteers,” Toti said. “If there was an issue, they’d run down the hill and jump on the trucks.”
Around 20 years ago, maintenance people at the hospital built a garage to house a fire truck.
“There’s one garage that is now failing,” Toti said. “It doesn’t have any heat. The foundation is cracking and it is now sinking.”
The Wallum Lake district now falls under the umbrella of the Pascoag Fire District, and without the outpost at Zambarano, the closest station to the hospital would be 4.5 miles away.
“We took on that responsibility,” Toti said, noting that the village district has taken on the job of providing training and equipment for WLFD volunteers.
During a recent cold snap, Toti noted the department had to use six space heaters to keep the water from freezing. The new building at Zambarano, he said, would be a basic two-bay structure with heating and water, with details to be worked out after the state finalizes their concept for the larger hospital.
Last week, Gov. Dan McKee announced plans to invest more than $100 million in the new hospital and on Wednesday, Feb. 22, a Community Town Hall outlining preliminary ideas will be held at the Beazley Building Medical Library at 2090 Wallum Lake Road in Pascoag starting at 2:30 p.m.
Toti noted that some details of the state’s plans will be discussed at that meeting, and that Pascoag officials also have discussions ongoing with both the speaker’s office and the governor’s office.
“We just want a place where we can house a couple of fire trucks,” said Toti.
Councilor Stephen Rawson said he supports the idea of a station on the campus.
“The response time could be sped up quite a bit,” Rawson said.
Toti noted that the presence of the vehicles can affect residents’ ISO rating, and that homeowners generally would pay more if trucks were not there.
“There is a little bit of a benefit to the average taxpayer,” he said.
“I think this is a great idea,” Councilor Jeremy Bailey said. “It seems like we may have more calls to service out there.”
Toti noted that there may also be funding available for one full-time person for up to ten years at the Wallum Lake station.
“If the concept and the funding gets passed, then we’ll sit down and work out the details,” Toti said. “We’re all cognizant of the fact that there’s a huge project going on up there.”
Currently, he noted state plans for the property will see the main hospital knocked down and a new facility built, but do not foresee changes to the ancillary structures.
Harrisville Fire Chief Michael Gingell asked how a new building might affect long term plans and the opportunity for consolidation of Burrillville’s fire departments.
“At some point the town needs to consider consolidation or a merger,” Gingell said. “I just would be concerned if the fire station up at Zambarano would impact the rest of the community.”
Council President Don Fox said that any initiative to consolidate would likely have to come from the chiefs in the town’s three active districts.
“I don’t think there’s anybody at this table that would most likely be opposed to a consolidation of fire services,” Fox said.
“We, as a fire district, are more than willing to sit down and have that discussion,” said Toti.
Councilors unanimously passed a resolution in support of the state funding request.