AUSTERLITZ–Members of the Austerlitz Volunteer Fire Company broke ground for construction of a new firehouse on Route 22 and West Hill Road Saturday, April 18, with town officials, community members, county fire and police officials and others in attendance.
The new firehouse will replace a 70-year-old building that is not only “in shambles” but, more importantly, is too small to house modern equipment. Construction was scheduled to begin April 20 and to be completed by early December.
Architect Shaun Batho of Pittsfield said the project was designed to complement nearby buildings, including those of the Austerlitz Historical Society, which is its neighbor just to the south.
The new firehouse will not only allow the company to store new and more modern equipment, like an engine with a compressed air foam system, but will also provide a safe and attractive space for training and for the community’s use for meetings and other functions.
David Savage, president of the Fire Company and chair of its Building Committee, spoke at the groundbreaking about the many ways in which the community has supported the project, from raising money and hosting events to assisting in the planning. Indeed, about 60 Austerlitz residents were present, attesting to that strong community support, including town Supervisor Rob Lagonia, Town Board member Greg Vogler, Clerk Susan Haag and Justice Sharon Grubin.
Recent studies of the work of volunteer fire companies nationwide note that they save local governments some $139.8 billion annually. The studies also suggest that only about 5% of their work is fire fighting. Columbia County Fire Coordinator John Howe said that the county’s unpaid volunteers answer some 3,700 alarms each year.
AVFC President Savage says that his group of 18 volunteers not only responds to fires but also undertakes the search and rescue of hunters and hikers lost or injured in the abundant forestland of the area. The company is the first responder for all medical emergencies, and some of its members are also emergency medical technicians. Automobile accidents often present the most serious situations the company faces, and its members are trained in extraction and in setting up landing zones so that helicopters can quickly land in order to transport the seriously injured to area hospitals.
The construction project will cost $800,000, of which $550,000 has already been raised. Fund-raising efforts are on-going. The company is able to start building now because of a low interest loan made by the Community Loan Fund of the Capital Region, which makes low interest loans on flexible terms to Capital District area non-profits and businesses. The Fund’s Lending Officer Dorian Wells was at the groundbreaking with an ear-to-ear grin, excited to see the community’s support for the effort, which, he said, made the short-term loan a “no brainer.” The FASNY Credit Union will hold any post-construction loan that is necessary, according to Todd Stevens, its manager and COO, who was also present. FASNY, is The Firemen’s Association of the State of New York.
Volunteer firefighting is a proud tradition in community service, dating back to the first volunteer company formed in 1736 in Philadelphia by Benjamin Franklin. The AVFD, formed some 200 years later, is always in need of volunteers. The state grants volunteers property tax abatements, income tax credits and $50,000 in death benefits if they die in the line of duty, which address the time volunteer firefighters devote to the work and the training required by federal and state law.