ANSONIA – On the campaign trail in Derby while running for governor in November 2018, Ned Lamont said if elected he would use his power to release $14 million in previously-approved state funding to finally build a Valley Fire Chiefs Regional Training School in Beacon Falls.
Lamont was back in the lower Naugatuck Valley Friday – but there’s still no money for the facility, and, based on the governor’s comments during a press conference, it doesn’t look like the school will be built anytime soon.
“Right now we’ve had to set priorities with our bonding, and I think there is no update on that right now,” Lamont said when asked about the fire school money.
“Right now, what I’m really focused on, is this (a $500,000 state grant to demolish an old factory in Ansonia) and I’m focused on the rail (improvements, including the Waterbury line),” Lamont said.
Only Lamont can put the $14 million on the agenda of the state bond commission, which he chairs.
The commission is scheduled to next meet on Tuesday.
The regional training school would be a building where volunteer firefighters from all over the Naugatuck Valley could learn the firefighting trade.
There used to be a school on O’Sullivan’s Island in Derby, but toxic waste closed the area to the public 20 years ago.
But the training school still exists – just without a dedicated home. There’s an office and some filing cabinets at the Seymour Community Center. Instructors take classes on the road to fire houses all over the lower Valley, carrying gear and paperwork in plastic storage bins.
The training school owns a pumper truck – it was donated by the Orange Fire Department and is housed in Bethany.
Meanwhile, the state purchased land in Beacon Falls for the fire school – but the money for construction sits in limbo.
In June 2019, during an appearance in Shelton, Gov. Lamont told The Valley Indy he would put the fire school on the bonding commission’s agenda – but he tied the issue to highway tolls, something he was pushing at the time to bolster the state’s transportation fund.
Tolls were strongly opposed by state Republicans, including House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, who represents Derby and ”>issued a series of statements last year criticizing Lamont about both the fire school and tolls.
Members of Lamont’s own party have been pressuring him to help, including state Rep. Kara Rochelle, with whom Lamont appeared in 2018 when he first made the campaign promise.
Meanwhile, there are volunteer firefighters who, every time a bonding agenda is released, note the number of days it has been since Lamont promised the funding.
When reached for comment Friday, Ansonia’s Ken Mitchell, Jr., president of the fire school’s board of directors, noted that firefighters and Valley politicians made a big push for the school in October 2019, holding a well-publicized and well-attended press conference in Beacon Falls asking the governor to put the fire school on the bonding commission’s agenda.
It didn’t work.
Nine months later, Mitchell said the school and firefighters have not been lobbying the state lately because they understand the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Still, Mitchell said he can’t help but read through bond commission agendas when they are posted. In his eyes, it’s a list of items the state thinks are more important than the Valley Fire Chiefs Regional Training School.
“I guess Rentschler Field needed new windows?” he said.