New firehouses don’t come cheap. And once built, they don’t last forever. So even though volunteer companies don’t pay for firefighters’ services, they still need lots of equipment and a place to put it all.
That’s where taxpayers come in, but it’s also where many taxpayers want to get off. So volunteer companies have to tread carefully, because they need taxpayers’ approval when they want to borrow to build new firehouses. And with the price of new firehouses in the multi-millions, that approval has been proving harder and harder to get.
Like shrinking rural school districts, fire companies either have to figure out how to share such facilities (as Malta’s two fire districts are doing with the construction of a new firehouse), or consolidate entire districts — as was suggested in a Sunday Gazette story about Rotterdam.
Indeed it seems incredible that a town of just 30,000 has eight — count ’em — separate fire districts. Yet for all that residents complain about their taxes going up (see Saturday’s Gazette story), there doesn’t seem to be much support for sharing or consolidating when it comes to fire districts.
With the cost of a new firehouse exceeding $3 million; with the town’s eight districts answering relatively few calls (1,522 in 2011); and with roughly just 10 percent of those calls for fires, there clearly doesn’t seem to be a need for so many fire districts.
Volunteer companies have their own turf (and clubhouses) to protect, so town leaders may need to begin steering the discussion. Some consolidation — especially in the town’s less-populated areas — seems in order.