The department proposed three years ago to expand the three-story building on Washington Avenue -- constructed in 1902 and extended in 1970 -- because modern trucks do not fit through its doors and the department needs extra space. The main issue is how the department will pay for the upgrades, fire and village officials said.
"The building cannot house any new apparatus," said fire Commissioner Edward Koehler, adding the department hasn't purchased a new truck since 2007 or an ambulance since 2001. "We can't alter the building in any way -- make it bigger or taller."
The facility does not meet current National Fire Protection Association space standards, Koehler said. The height of the two bays in the original building provide 2 to 3 inches of clearance between the ceiling and the department's 1991 pumper truck, and 1 inch for the ambulance, he said. Newer trucks purchased in 1996 and 2005 can't fit at all, he said. Some are crammed into one of the three bays in the 1970 extension.
"The firehouse is cramped," said Koehler, the department's chief from 2000 to 2006. That could slow response times and be a hazard to responders. "There is very little room to park the trucks. The safety issue is unbelievable. It is an accident waiting to happen."
The proposed extension would include two additional bays on the first floor, and more offices and training rooms on the second floor. Construction would take about 14 months, Koehler said. The department owns the land for the expansion.
Cedarhurst and Lawrence officials said they support the expansion, but have delayed a decision to go forward until they can determine how they would pay for the project.
The villages cover the majority of the department's $1 million operating budget, with a small sum coming from Hempstead Town for the department's coverage of North Lawrence and East Lawrence. The project's approval is solely up to the villages, town spokesman Mike Deery said.
"We have said we will support the project every which way we can," said Lawrence Mayor Martin Oliner, adding the department's fire protection service contract is being renewed on a month-to-month basis until project funding is determined. "We will pay our share. We will not pay for Cedarhurst."
Lawrence initially offered to loan the department the money at a 5 percent interest rate over 15 years, but is now proposing either that each village borrow to cover its share of the costs or that the fire department borrow the funds, Oliner said.
Under either option, Cedarhurst village administrator Salvatore Evola said, the department "would have to raise their contract fees to cover the loan costs."