A different kind of 911 call

The town of Bethany needs a new fire station.

For 50 years the Bethany Volunteer Fire Department has been headquartered at Center Station on Amity Road. In that time our town has grown tremendously and so has our department. We have added on to Center Station twice, and renovated once.

Our trucks have grown, both in size and number. Our membership has grown. Our call volume has increased exponentially. Our responsibilities have grown. The number and type of services we provide have increased.

Yet, in the 50 years that we have been headquartered on Amity Road, our department has received less than $50,000 from the town toward building expansion projects. The town has been aware for 15 years of our impending need to relocate. The board of finance was formally notified in 1994 of the urgency of the future needs of the fire department, yet they have made no discernible efforts to plan for them.

Our town continues to grow today. We are now out of space. There is no room for expansion of Center Station. We have nowhere else to grow. Bethany's 911 providers can no longer afford to be ignored by the board of finance. We need a new firehouse and we need it now.

Though the Volunteer Fire Department has quietly managed to keep pace with our town's growth, we have done so not on the shoulders of Bethany's' taxpayers, but through donations and generosity, raffles and fund-raisers, and countless hours of sweat equity from our members. We have nurtured our fire department - with our own members, tools and talents - as volunteers. We have built numerous additions by ourselves, with no financial support from the town. We have refurbished old, used fire trucks, bought from other towns that no longer found utility in them, at a savings of millions of dollars to our taxpayers.

Our ambulance corps is financially self-sufficient, it receives no money from the town annually. Year after year we operate on a piecemeal budget, last year's was only $85,000, which is less than many household incomes in town. We had done so because we had no other means.

We cost this town almost nothing. Yet every time 911 is dialed, we are expected to do the same exact job and provide the same level of service and performance as any other fire department in any other town, New Haven, Hamden, Naugatuck, West Haven, Milford, etc. We proudly do. We have to.

We receive neither pay nor compensation for our sacrifice. As volunteers, we save the town millions of dollars annually. What we do is essentially nothing more than an unpaid job. And at times, especially now, it is a very thankless, unpaid job.

We have watched millions of dollars flood into the schools, open space, and other municipal projects, some of which have been misguided and plagued with financial mismanagement. All of these endeavors have had the opportunity to be voted on by the taxpaying public in a referendum. Why doesn't the Volunteer Fire Department, your only 911 providers, deserve that same courtesy? Do we not rate high enough in importance in our town? I'm beginning to feel that we do not.

Unfortunately for the fire department (but fortunate for you as citizens), the fact remains that we simply do not permeate the day-to-day lives of most Bethany residents. We are transient figures seen by most only at parades and chicken barbecues. How can we possibly compete with the schools, which impact your families nearly every day, and with such positive cause?

Our presence is felt merely by a few and briefly at that, associated only with sudden need and emergency. Then, in the same timely manner that we arrive, our acts of mitigation and aid are put away quickly, much like our fire trucks and ambulances, as soon as the need for us faded. We resume our daily lives, as do those whom we serve, returning to our families when the time for urgency has passed, often with no further mention or thought given toward our existence

We are now the ones faced with urgency. We need a new fire station and we need it soon. We are volunteers like no others in this community. We have faithfully served thousands of hours, answered thousands of calls, and provided aid, service, and care to thousands of our neighbors. We have sacrificed and saved our citizens millions of tax dollars in the process. We have done so for decades, all without the prejudice and subjectivity that we have faced throughout our 15-year struggle for a new home. We cannot be expected to build a new fire station through donated Saturday afternoons and chicken barbecues. We deserve a referendum. We've certainly earned that much, if not more. We need a new firehouse. We need your support. And we need it now. Please help us so we can continue to help you.

(The membership of the Bethany Volunteer Fireman's Association wishes to publicly thank all those who have supported us in the past through time, donations, and kind words. Thank you to all who have signed our petitions calling for a referendum. We encourage all taxpayers and voters to attend the next board of finance meeting Tuesday, Aug. 7, at 8 p.m. at the Bethany Town Hall, and protect your right to vote.)

(Any questions or concerns can be directed to Steven Winter, fire department EMS secretary, at 214-2759.

Steven Winter is a seven-year member of the Bethany Volunteer Fire Department Ambulance Corps.