Concerns Tied To Warehouse Proposal Riling Local Fire Officials
Any opponents of the proposed Wharton Hawleyville warehouse, or anyone concerned over whether Newtown’s collective fire services lack the resources, training, and apparatus to respond to any eventual fires or related emergencies at such a facility can rest assured, according to a number of fire officials speaking to those allegations.
And any suggestion that such a development might have a negative impact on Newtown’s community ISO rating — with a potential collateral effect on property insurance rates — is, in the words of Newtown Emergency Management Director and Sandy Hook Volunteer Fire & Rescue Chief William Halstead, “... ridiculous.”
A top tier of local fire service representatives recently spoke to The Newtown Bee following assertions, primarily on social network posts and in a few recent Letter Hive submissions, to reassure opponents of the project and everyone across the community that Newtown’s five fire companies are trained and ready for virtually any emergency, with an inventory of apparatus that outpaces numerous Connecticut municipal paid fire departments.
Those concerns about a possible warehouse fire, accident, or hazardous materials incident are listed among reasons hundreds of residents are actively opposing the project, which at press time was still under consideration by the Newtown Planning & Zoning Commission.
For those who may have somehow missed it, New York based Wharton Equity Partners LLC, is applying for a Special Exception to the M-2A zoning at 10 Hawleyville Road and 1 Sedor Lane, so as to permit the construction of a 344,880 square foot warehouse with truck docks, trailer and vehicle parking spaces, and associated site work.
The project, proposed for a parcel long zoned for industrial use, has already been approved by Newtown’s Inland Wetlands Commission. A public hearing on the requested exception is set to continue Thursday, May 19.
Speaking to opponents’ concerns, Halstead noted like most of the fire service sources speaking on the issue on and off the record, that every certified Connecticut firefighter, paid or volunteer, undergoes the same rigorous training. He further echoed comments about how well-equipped the community’s five independent fire companies are with apparatus owned by the municipality, or the companies themselves.
Halstead, and all those who spoke on the record, additionally noted that if somehow, Newtown’s fire services were challenged by a fire or incident at such a warehouse, if built, additional responders from a network of mutual aid departments surrounding Newtown would be mobilized.
If it was a matter of a serious hazardous materials incident, like any other community across Connecticut, a regional state hazardous materials response team would be immediately dispatched to help mitigate the situation.
“Newtown is well-equipped, we do have good turnouts in town when there is a call, and as you know, when a structure fire call comes in, we send five companies right away,” he said. “And we have a good working relationship with departments in all the surrounding towns, Monroe, Brookfield, Southbury, Bethel. We all do mutual aid for these surrounding towns.
“Plus there are hydrants, and I’m sure a building like that would be fully up to code with sprinklers, fire stopping, and fire walls. And most of the major warehouse fires across the country that have gotten out of control were covered by full-time paid fire companies, so don’t start knocking our volunteer companies,” Halstead added. “To me, what an ideal place to build something like that because there’s nothing on top of it. There’s no other commercial buildings or homes [near the site].”
Regarding the issue of ISO (Insurance Services Office) ratings, which may or may not be factors in property insurance underwriting and related costs to insureds, Halstead confirmed that as Newtown’s former Fire Marshal, he was involved with the national nonprofit rating agency on at least two occasions when they were in town reviewing local ISO ratings.
“I don’t believe ISO can rate the entire town because of one building,” Halstead said. “There is a list of things that ISO takes into consideration when rating communities — training records, emergency dispatch procedures, response times. Anyone saying that [a large warehouse facility] could decrease Newtown’s ISO rating — that’s a ridiculous comment.”
And while the contents, and the tenants of the facility are as yet unknown, Halstead added that any commercial truck coming or going will have numerous placards stating the contents, so responding firefighters will know exactly how to handle any related emergency that might present.
Fire Marshal Rich Frampton said Newtown’s mutual aid in the event of a major fire at such a facility also extends to the paid fire departments serving Danbury.
“And as far as equipment, we have more than Danbury — they have two ladder trucks, and we have three, more than enough to address a fire at the proposed facility which would top out at around 45 feet.
Frampton further addressed concerns saying that he is requiring additional fire hydrants to be installed and tied into municipal water lines “surrounding the entire building.” He said the project would include two points of access for emergency responders, from Mt Pleasant and Hawleyville Roads.
“If there is an issue with water supply capacity, we’ll have them install a suppression tank or booster pump, there will be alarms, extinguishers throughout, and the building will conform to international and state fire safety codes,” he said, adding that in the event of an issue with one of the deliveries or shipments, “all [truck operators] will be required to have a materials safety data sheet, so we can check for hazardous materials.”
The fire marshal also pointed out there are other industrial warehouses in Newtown with potentially dangerous inventories, located much closer to residential neighborhoods than the Wharton proposal.
Front Line Responders
Among those most concerned with negative comments around fire service response and capabilities was Chief Don DiGioia, who commands Hawleyville Volunteer Fire Company, which is located within a mile of the proposed warehouse site. He also sought to reassure residents that response from his company would be rapid and effective.
“Hawleyville is prepared to address any incident within the district that requires emergency services,” he said. “I’m not sure there are any other warehouses in town [built] to the scale of this proposal, but there are other facilities in town where Hawleyville would be requested and there are other warehouse facilities in Hawleyville’s district, potentially with the same type of contents.”
DiGioia said that if any type of fire was to break out that exceeded the suppression capabilities of the required internal sprinkler system, "we have the ability to address any type of emergency that could occur there — we’ve got a ladder truck, tanker, a heavy rescue truck, and we’re well trained to address any type of emergency there.”
Ray Corbo is not only a current member of Newtown Hook & Ladder, he’s also the company’s former Chief, and a specially trained Captain with the full-time Waterbury municipal Fire Dept.
“Concerns about fire response capabilities need to come out of the equation,” Corbo asserted.
Having experience fighting industrial and warehouse fires, Corbo said, “Newtown is well-equipped, more equipped than most volunteer towns and some cities. Newtown has more Class A pumpers than Waterbury has on the streets every day. We have three ladder trucks to take care of 115,000 people, and Danbury has two. And as far as manpower, we’re looking at 120 to 130 firefighters, including a number who also work with paid departments.”
He said all Newtown firefighters are trained to respond to hazardous materials incidents, and anything beyond what Newtown responders could handle, like any other community in the region, would receive response from a specially trained and equipped state unit.
“They operate at a hazardous materials technician level, and the unit is made up of Danbury, Waterbury, and Torrington paid firefighters,” he said. “But the Fairfield County hazmat team is also available to us. The only towns with hazmat technicians on duty are Danbury, Waterbury, and Torrington.”
Corbo pointed out that Brookfield, with a significant number of warehouses and industrial complexes, would be among the first mutual aid departments to respond if Newtown’s companies required additional assets, and Monroe is similarly experienced.
“And if we needed more water than could be supplied by hydrants, Newtown has at least six tankers, along with access to a regional tanker task force,” he said. “So water supply is not going to be an issue.”
And in the unlikely event of a building collapse or catastrophic structural issue, Corbo said specialists and state resources would be responding.
“And as far as training goes, every Newtown interior structure firefighter has the same certification as paid members in cities like Danbury, Bridgeport, and Hartford,” he said. “And each Newtown department has at least one if not several municipal firefighters as members.”
Editor John Voket can be reached at email@example.com.