Press-Republican

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August 29, 2012

Fire stations ruined; relocation on hold

Upper Jay, Keene fire houses still need repairs after Irene

KEENE — Torrential rain from Tropical Storm Irene turned the east and west branches of the Ausable River into monsters a year ago.

Like serpents, river currents rose with lashing waves and a surging force that pushed everything out of its way.

By good providence, no one was killed in afflicted Essex County towns, though the National Weather Service marked 7.55 inches of rainfall at Whiteface Mountain between Aug. 28 and Sept. 1, 2011.

Many residents faced treacherous rescue as their homes were inundated. And those who went in after them — by boat or by rope or by ladder — were firefighters and trained emergency medical technicians.

But even the rescuers were affected.

Volunteers with two of the county’s fire departments could only stand by and watch as rivers ripped through their fire-station walls and swept valuable gear into the roiling, fluid tempest.

Fire stations in Keene and Upper Jay remain damaged to this day, with limited and, in Keene’s case, temporary use. 

MUST MOVE SOON

State, federal and local officials are still trying to come to terms with costs for rebuilding the fire stations, vital links to public safety.

Flood damage to the Keene Fire Station was terminal — the building is condemned.

“We’ve got two fire trucks in what remains of the Keene station under a temporary certificate of occupancy that expires at the end of August,” said Alan Cary, chairman of the Keene Board of Fire Commissioners. “We were told when we got it that it would not be renewed.”

The company’s other fire trucks are stored in other barns and garages.

Insurance money allowed Keene to begin plans to rebuild and relocate with an initial nod from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for some $600,000 in disaster-recovery money.

But as shovels were poised for breaking ground earlier this month, commissioners were told the FEMA allowance was to be cut in half, based, commissioners believe, on dimensions and code aspects of the building’s structural design.

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