The East Hampton Fire Department and East Hampton Ambulance Association have moved into a newly completed Northwest Woods substation, a building that will provide relief to Northwest property owners after decades of discussion.
The single-story, 3,800-square-foot building is located at the former brush dump at 18 Old Northwest Road, 2.7 miles from the East Hampton Village Emergency Services Building on Cedar Street, which serves as the headquarters for both agencies.
Though it is only a five-minute drive with no traffic, the summer gridlock in town and the distance the main station was from the furthest points in the department’s 31-square-mile coverage area posed a problem, especially for Northwest Woods property owners who are paying “exorbitant amounts of money for fire insurance because of the distance from a fire station,” Fire Chief Gerard Turza Jr. said.
Getting relief for the property owners had been discussed, in some circles, as far as back as the 1960s, maybe even longer, he said. The idea of building was actively pursued to various degrees since the 1980s.
Any more than five miles from a fire station — no matter the proximity of a fire hydrant — and insurance rates are higher. “Some of them were classified as not even able to get insurance,” he said.
The $1.4 million project will cut down on those costs, but it’s more than that. Turza called it “a springboard to the future.”
The building also enables the Fire Department to house more equipment, which is becoming more necessary than ever. The department serves a year-round population of roughly 9,000 to 10,000 people, a number that is increasing since the exodus from the city because of the pandemic. “Our population has skyrocketed,” Turza said. “The activity especially in the Northwest area has increased dramatically so we’re going to be able to field additional equipment up in that area.
Lisa Charde, the ambulance association chief, said her agency’s newly added fourth ambulance will be kept at the substation. It will mainly be used for firefighter rehab at fire scenes, but she said with the increase in the year-round population expected here because of COVID-19, a fourth ambulance will get good use.
Having a substation also allows the fire department’s volunteer membership to get to the trucks faster. In the summer, “the gridlock around Cedar Street and North Main Street” poses an issue. “It’s a little easier to get to Old Northwest,” he said, adding that the department is changing its response and training with the addition of Station 2. (The Fire Department has had a longstanding substation at the East Hampton Airport, which will be known as Station 3).
“There’s a lot more work to do on our part. We’ve got the building, which is great. Now the work comes to adapt our response to that.”
An initiative is also underway to bring more public water into Northwest Woods, which predominantly has cisterns, used when there is no piped water supply. It is a finite source, Turza said. “Once empty, it’s empty,” and firefighters need to truck in water. The department is working with the Suffolk County Water Authority.
“We’re trying to do a number of different initiatives for the Northwest Fire Protection District that will help not only those residents, but the overall town,” he said.
In 2006, the then chief Ray Harden, who is now a village board member, had developed a plan for the site. Turza said when he was serving as second assistant chief in 2016, Richard Osterberg Jr., who was chief at the time, gave him the site plan review for what ended up being the final push for the building.
The half-acre property is owned by the Town of East Hampton and leased to the village, which oversees the emergency services agencies that the town contracts to serve areas like the Northwest Fire Protection District.
The land was cleared at the end of August last year and construction began the following month. When COVID-19 shut down construction, special permission was needed to carry on with the project, which was ultimately deemed essential to critical infrastructure. Construction was completed April 30. With some loose ends needing to be tied up, the building just received it Certificate of Occupancy from the town last week.
“It’s finally done,” said Turza, who said he has been on cloud nine since moving in. “I’ve been staring at an empty building since the end of April and now I’ve got trucks there and now it’s a completely different feeling.”
An engine, tanker truck, and brush truck were moved into the four bays on August 1, as well as the ambulance. The ambulance association’s mass casualty trailer. There is also a small office and a bathroom, plus 17 parking spaces.
Chief Turza said he was thankful for everyone who has had a hand in making the building come to fruition over the years. “There were so many people from so many entities and organizations,” he said. Village administrator Becky Molinaro Hansen “was crucial in carrying this project over the finish line,” he added.
The East Hampton Village Board of Trustees and Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc will have a formal ribbon-cutting at the substation on Friday at 1 p.m.