Facing what he described as a stark need to replace equipment, Brian Brooks, president of the Whitehall Volunteer Fire Company, last week submitted to the Whitehall Town Board a request for a $25,000 increase in the department’s current budget of $104,000.
The request, he said, was for replacing equipment essential to battling blazes inside a building, primarily air bottles for the department’s existing stockpile of 19 air packs, and turnout gear for internal firefighters.
Brooks defended the budget request, arguing that the truly effective way to battle fires was inside a building. To do that job, firefighters need airparks. As the department’s stockpile of 19 in-service air packs run out, they need to be replaced, Brooks said.
“The bottles to these air packs provide about 45 minutes of air. They cost $1,000 each,” Brooks said.
“Once the bottles are gone,” he said, “that firefighter is not going back inside the building.”
And the days of fighting fires with outside hoses pouring streams of water through windows into a building are over, the department president added.
Brooks also said the requested increase was needed for the fire department to comply with New York State’s Bail-Out Law, which came into existence after New York City firefighters, battling a fire on a sixth floor and lacking escape rope, “had to jump out windows and died.”
He said that the increase was not for two purchased trucks that have been accounted for in the department’s current $99,000 budget, with an extra $5,000 allotted for the first respond contract.
“We have a plan for the trucks,” Brook said. “We didn’t have a plan” for equipment depletion. “We didn’t realize that the gear was about to go offline,” Brook said
According to a copy of the fire department’s financial request for 2014, “The fire company has been using lightweight, fully wrapped carbon filter bottles that require mandatory periodic hydrostatic testing every five years.
“These bottles are limited to a 15-year-life, and then must be discarded… There are approximately 15…” “…bottles that need to be replaced, which cost approximately $1,000 each for a total of $15,000,” the document states.
Town Supervisor George Armstrong complimented the Whitehall Volunteer Fire Department for the work it was doing and for compiling the financial request document.
“We are appreciative of every thing you do,” Armstrong said, adding that Whitehall Volunteer Fire Department was “the healthiest fire department in the county based on age.”
Brooks reported that Whitehall was the busiest department in Washington County, answering 505 calls per year.
Armstrong described the budget material that Brooks presented as “great background information,” but he added that the department would need to provide more specific information of “exactly what you want” in dollars by Sept. 30, when the town reviews its tentative budget.
Brooks said that he would do that, left, and returned a while letter with a letter formally requesting a $25,000 increase. The letter reads as follows:”
“Please consider our request for an increase in our fire protection contract. We are requesting $25,000 per year increase on top of the current $99,000. The First Response contract would remain the same at $5,000.
“Please take the time to review the material handed out at the meeting describing our immediate needs.”
Supervisor Armstrong accepted the letter from the fire chief with thanks. Earlier in the talk on the fire department, Brooks repeated his belief that Whitehall needed to establish a fire district, but Armstrong countered that a fire district takes away town and village control.
“Once you set up a district,” Armstrong said, “they decide what they pay. The town and village are out of it.”
Armstrong said that although the town appreciated the efforts of the firefighters, the department had to remember that the town has to operate within Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s two percent tax cap on municipal budget increases.
“You know what I think of two percent,” Brooks said. “It’s Governor Cuomo’s pipe dream. Everybody has to comply but him.”
The fire department’s $25,000 represents a 24 percent increase over its current budget of $104,000 and would represent a 3 percent increase in the town’s current budget of $831,000.