MARIAVILLE — The town’s only fire station doesn’t have running water, unless you count the days when it rains a lot and runoff from Route 181 leaks into the bays.
Those bays are barely large enough to fit the station’s four emergency vehicles: firefighters have to fold in the rearview mirrors on Tanker 1 in order to pull it out of the station. Otherwise the truck is wider than the garage door.
The antenna on Engine 1 is currently held together by duct tape. It finally broke last month because it hits the top of the door every time the engine goes in or out.
Those are a few of the reasons that members of the Mariaville Volunteer Fire/Rescue Department are asking residents of Mariaville and the neighboring town of Otis for a new fire station. Their plan, with an estimated cost of $750,000, will likely go before voters in both towns this fall.
The department’s dozen volunteer firefighters say the current station, built nearly four decades ago, simply isn’t big enough. Its location isn’t ideal to serve both Mariaville and Otis, and the lack of resources poses safety concerns.
“We’re not asking for a station that’s the Taj Mahal,” said Deputy Chief Karen Murray, a Mariaville resident who has been with the department for 20 years. “We’re asking for a station that our vehicles fit in.”
The department has run into the problem, she explained, because bigger vehicles are better suited for rural firefighting, but don’t easily fit in the current station. Tanker 1, for example, holds 2,500 gallons of water, more than a typical fire truck.
“This is what we need in rural America,” Murray said. “We need something with a lot of water.”
Chief Scott Baron and Murray have been considering the idea of a new station for over a decade. They say that, in addition to the size problem, the current station is poorly located.
While the department serves both towns, the current station is located on Route 181 in Mariaville. Slightly more of the calls come from Otis, according to Murray, but the greater distance means a slower response time.
Additionally, about a decade ago, construction on Route 181 raised the elevation of the road. Since then, runoff from storms sometimes flows into the fire station. It damages the concrete and can freeze during the winter.
The fire station also lacks access to running water. Trucks are filled up using a dry hydrant, a pipe system that sucks water from a stream.
Firefighters use an outhouse, but a problem arises, Baron explained, when they return from an incident and have no place to wash up. Attending to a car accident, for example, often leaves the volunteers with blood or other contaminants on their clothes or bodies.
“It isn’t safe; you just can’t get cleaned up,” the chief said.
Some gear goes to a Laundromat; firefighters wash the remainder at home.
The department is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that has relied on grants from groups such as FEMA to purchase vehicles and equipment, but there are rarely grants available for buildings, according to Murray. The department does receive $14,000 each from the towns of Mariaville and Otis, which helps with maintenance of the vehicles and heating of the building.
None of the dozen firefighters receives a salary; they pay for trainings, including EMS and CPR certifications, themselves.
After holding an informational meeting about the fire station at the Otis Town Hall on Aug. 1, Murray and Baron are expecting selectmen in both towns to issue warrant letters by the end of the month, calling for special town meetings where residents would vote on the proposal.
If the measure passes in both towns, construction likely would begin in the spring of 2019 and be completed by December of that year.
If the new station is approved, the department plans to change its name to better reflect its location and the communities that it serves. The firefighters would like the new name to be the Mariaville/Otis Volunteer Fire/Rescue Department.
Murray hopes the name change could “help with the relationship” between the two towns and help the department with recruitment in Otis. The average age of the current members is 45, and she worries about maintaining a firefighting crew amidst an aging population and what she and Baron have identified as a dwindling interest in public service.
Recruitment for rural fire departments, she says, is a “statewide issue.” Inadequate facilities, however, are a problem unique to Mariaville.
Baron, who has visited many of the state’s fire departments over the years, put it bluntly.
“I can’t think of anyone who’s got it worse than we have,” he said.