Two possible changes to fire protection in Shawangunk could result in significant impacts to residents, according to town officials.
“I’m on the fence, I really am,” said Shawangunk Town Councilman Adrian Dewitt.
Last week the board weighed a proposal from the Pine Bush Fire District to take over the town’s New Prospect Fire Protection District.
A fire protection district is a special district, much like a water or sidewalk district, created by the town. They are created for areas within the town that are outside of existing fire districts. The town contracts with a local fire district to cover the special district. That expense is included in the town budget, with taxes levied only to property owners within the special district.
The New Prospect Fire Protection District includes 316 properties in Shawangunk near the county line. Currently the town pays the Pine Bush Fire District $109,000 per year to protect those properties and there were 13 calls for service last year.
The proposed change would mean the Shawangunk properties would be absorbed into the existing fire district in Orange County and pay whatever rate they set for the district as a whole.
“They don’t have a say right now in the budget process,” Pine Bush Fire Commissioner Bob Moorehead explained after the meeting.
Moorehead said the idea has been floating around for a few years and he hopes it is now gaining traction. He emphasized that the town supervisor and town board do a great job representing the taxpayers at the table, but he feels the change would give property owners more of a voice. If they were part of the Pine Bush Fire District, property owners could speak up at the fire district’s budget hearings and elect new fire commissioners.
Councilman Dewitt lives within the fire protection district and while unsure which path he prefers, pointed out that firefighters and residents living in the New Prospect Fire Protection District could seek election as a fire commissioner for Pine Bush if they go forward with the proposal.
“It would be good to have someone from Shawangunk on the board,” said Moorehead.
The board also admitted that the two neighboring fire districts in Ulster County—Shawangunk Valley and Wallkill—may also decide that they would like to take on all or part of the special district if the town decides to give up the special district.
The town board is looking into the idea and asks that residents from the special district contact them with their concerns and opinions.
“We’d like to know how people feel about it,” said Councilman Dewitt.
Property owners can determine if they are located within the special district by checking their tax bill. They can contact any town board member through the town’s website: shawangunk.org.
Meanwhile, the Wallkill Fire District is already taking on more responsibility, at least on a trial basis.
Fire Chief Nick Walker advised the Shawangunk Town Board on Thursday that the Wallkill Fire Department will begin responding to medical calls starting on March 1.
“Everyone knows the volunteer services struggle nowadays to get volunteers,” said Fire Chief Nick Walker. “We all understand it’s not just Wallkill Ambulance, it’s everywhere. It takes a while to get an ambulance on scene, so for an individual to be there with some type of training, it’s going to give them a little bit of comfort. I think we’re going in the right direction.”
Walker said he started brainstorming last year for a way to help the ambulance corps and realizing that everyone at their firehouse was certified in CPR, AED and Narcan, they approached Ulster County about having the fire department dispatched to all Tier 2 or ALS calls. This means that the department can now be dispatched to cases involving cardiac arrest, overdoses and other medical calls. Currently they respond to fire calls and motor vehicle accidents.
The change is being made on a trial basis and will be reevaluated after 90 days.
“If everything seems to be going smooth and my guys want to continue with it, maybe it will become a permanent fixture,” said Walker.
Walker did point out that the change will mean an estimated increase of 200 calls to the roughly 175 fire calls they receive each year.
“It’s going to be a good jump in call percentage,” said Walker. “My guys are super for it, they want to get out there—they want to be proactive.”
The fire department will have identical medical bags to those carried by Wallkill Ambulance. They will not transport patients.
“It’s a big step,” said Town Supervisor John Valk. “You’re to be commended for having that dialogue.”
Walker said he would be back in three months to report on the change and receive any feedback from the town board and the public.
“We’re looking for as much feedback as possible,” said Walker.