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Cohoes common councilor: mayor falling short on firehouse promise

Keeler For Mayor election poster.
Keeler For Mayor election poster.

1st ward Cohoes city councilor Bill Smith is calling on Democratic Mayor Bill Keeler to keep the Vliet Street Firehouse, which is closed much of the year, open 24/7. Smith says Keeler made a campaign promise to do just that.

"Three budgets later and two years as mayor and nothing's been done."

Smith, also a Democrat, says from January 1st, 2020 to September 28th of 2021, the station was closed 265 out of 635 days. He adds the Albany County city received nearly $1 million in American Rescue Plan Act relief, and notes the residents of the city's Hill section pay some of the highest taxes and deserve a firehouse that is always open. Keeler, in his first term, has a different point of view.

"Well, I'm one of those residents on the Hill that's a high taxpayer. And you know, I, I would like the firehouse, open. However, I'm completely comfortable with the fire response from the central firehouse."

"He doesn't live near that fire department, that house up there. He lives on Western Avenue in the backend of Western Avenue, which is over by Lansing school. That Vliet street firehouse is nowhere near where he lives. "

Smith says Keeler also promised to build a new central firehouse, and wants a status report on that project.

" We've got we've got the funding we needed from COVID. And let's just get the fire department what they need for once after five administrations. So hopefully when we have our committee meetings, you know, we can get something straightened out but I'm not holding my breath. We're presented the budget Tuesday, this upcoming Tuesday. And then after that we're we should be having committee meetings."

Keeler's $24.8 million dollar spending proposal does not raise property taxes or water and sewer rates. It provides for re-staffing city departments to fill vacancies and cuts spending 1% below the current budget.

Keeler dismisses Smith's criticism as “politics.”

"It's more of a political stunt than a public safety issue. And if you talk to the firemen, which I have, some of them will tell you that, look, we don't really need a Hill fire station. We need a brand new, centrally located firehouse. And, you know, we have been meeting, good faith meetings, with the union, with the fire chief, myself with the city planner. And we've looked around the city, we've identified a couple of centrally located green spaces where we could build a new firehouse. We've had an engineering study done, we've talked to a property owner, but it's a process. it takes time to build a new firehouse. But I mean, that is ultimately my goal.”

Fire Chief Joe Fahd commands the city's 32 firefighters.

"When you talk to the members, most of them agree we can get by with one central firehouse. You know, and the response time is right now from central to the Hill, maybe at a minute or less than response time from Central Station and when we watch response planning very carefully. I don't see any big issues. We’re well within the national response time frame framework. So I'm not really concerned about that."

Fahd also dismissed Smith's references to a 25-year old fire truck, explaining the vehicle is regularly maintained and is actually a reserve piece in case one of the department's pumpers goes out for service or breaks down.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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