Poquonnock Bridge Fire District's maintenance of Fort Hill station at issue

Groton - The Poquonnock Bridge Fire District may face another legal fight, this time with the company that owns the now-closed Fort Hill fire station.

Poquonnock Bridge Volunteer Fire Co. No. 1 Inc., which leased the Fort Hill station to the district in 1992 for 99 years, sent letters to the fire chief and district board in November 2013 and in April regarding upkeep of the property that it maintains the district is responsible for. The company retained a lawyer two weeks ago, said Carl Kiely, a member of its executive committee.

At issue is maintenance of the fire station, which the company said needs repair, and whether the fire district has authority to recruit its own volunteers without consulting the volunteer company first, Kiely said.

Glenn Carberry, lawyer for the fire district, said Thursday his office is preparing a written response, which should go out in the next couple of days.

"A number of the things raised in the letter relate to an initial request they made last November, and certainly all immediate issues that require immediate repair and maintenance have been addressed," Carberry said. "There are some issues that the client is looking into, either engaging contractors for or studying in more detail."

He added, "I think that this will be a normal dispute that sometimes exists between a landlord, and tenant and it's being handled that way."

The November letter said the building's roof leaked, the furnace needed maintenance, the outside trim needed repair and the basement had flooded during a storm. The letter also said overall cleanliness and outside maintenance of the building needed improvement.

The fire district board is obligated "for another 78 years to the taxes, municipal charges, insurance, improvements, maintenance and all utilities," Kiely wrote in the letter. "In the event the district violates the lease agreement, the Volunteer Fire Company #1 Inc. will consult their lawyer to initiate legal action."

Fire District Board President Alan Ackley could not be reached for comment.

In March, an inspection by former Fire Marshal Adam Wojtcuk found nine fire code violations at the station, including the need to repair fire doors and broken outlets, test the fire alarm system and install a fire wall between the meeting hall and the bunk room.

"You are hereby ordered to take proper corrective action to remedy all listed violations within 30 days of receipt of this notice, unless otherwise noted in this letter or on the attached inspection report," Wojtcuk wrote.

He said if compliance with the code imposed an "unreasonable hardship" and an alternative could be found, the district could ask for an extension or modification of the requirements.

Kiely, who served on the fire district board in the 1970s and '80s, mostly as its president, said he is upset over what's happened in the district.

"It's a crime," he said. "We ran perfectly for years with a five-man (fire district) committee, and we didn't have any financial problems."

The board recently laid off nine firefighters because it couldn't afford to pay their salaries after voters approved a reduced budget for the current fiscal year.

Twitter: @DStraszheim

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