Talk of merging fire dispatch with Warwick resurfaced in December, during a brief conversation between Town Manager Tom Coyle and Warwick Mayor Scott Avedesian. They talked again last week but nothing was decided, Coyle said.
“In March or April, I’m going to meet with Warwick again and find out where they are and crunch some numbers,” he said. “Is it really going to benefit us, if it’s going to cost us anything? I’d be doing it to save us some money, not to add costs.”
The original dream of consolidating fire dispatch with Warwick was kept alive in East Greenwich long after it had died in Warwick. When it finally died here too, in January 2013, East Greenwich had spent more than $160,000, only some of it recoverable. Town Manager Tom Coyle did not seem to want to make that mistake again.
The earlier dispatch consolidation discussions took place between Warwick and the then-East Greenwich Fire District, which was incorported into a town department in last June. Consolidation efforts started in 2010, when EG purchased some equipment. It wasn’t until 2013, however, that EG stepped away, after it became clear that Warwick was no longer interested.
Since then, in addition to the fire district becoming a town fire department, Fire Chief Peter Henrikson – the main point person for the first effort – retired. His deputy chief, Russell McGillivray, was named acting chief in August. He will be sworn in as fire chief Monday, Jan. 27. With the department now part of the town, negotiation of any sort of dispatch merger would be between Coyle and Avedesian.
Coyle said there are other pressing fire issues, perhaps most importantly the loss as early as next fall of payments from Warwick to East Greenwich for fire and rescue service to Potowomut. Warwick is building a new fire station on the site of the former Potowomut Elementary School, which was recently demolished, to take care of Potowomut.
“We’re definitely losing the rescue calls, unless we get mutual aid calls,” Coyle said. “So we’re going to end up losing that revenue.”
Coyle, who is working on his budget now, said he would only be including a portion of the $300,000 payment from Warwick next year.
Another fire department issue is the potentially costly repair of the floor at Station One on Main Street. Right now, an engineering company is putting together a estimated price tag to fix the floor, following a study of the structural problems.
The Town Council will have to decide, based on the information it hears from the engineering company, whether or not to proceed with the repairs. Right now, larger engine trucks do not park on the effected floor, due to fear the floor might not be structurally sound.
Another EGFD issue is whether or not to keep Station One the main fire station. Before the fire service came under the auspices of the town, there was talk of building a new main fire station to replace Station One, which was characterized as both old and not strategically located to deal with the issues of a 21st century East Greenwich.
Buying a new piece of property and building a new fire station would require going out to bond at a time when taxpayers have only just started to see a bit of a decline in bond repayments from the new police station, the refurbished Swift Community Center and, largest, the new Cole Middle School and assorted renovations at other schools.
Coyle said he was very reluctant to do that.One possibility he offered, which would also require bonding but not as much, would be to expand Station Two on Frenchtown Road, making it the new main fire house, with Station One as the backup.