Trumbull Center Fire District shines, saves thanks to affordable energy upgrades

Dave Tiago, the maintenance and facilities manager for the Trumbull Center Fire District, shows off the headquarters' new Earthcore Energy Services system - better known as
Dave Tiago, the maintenance and facilities manager for the Trumbull Center Fire District, shows off the headquarters’ new Earthcore Energy Services system — better known as “Big Brother” around the firehouse — which controls the White Plains Road building’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. — Steve Coulter photo

A modern, energy-efficient building that saves money — what else could anyone ask for?

The Trumbull Center Fire District headquarters, located at 860 White Plains Road, has seen exactly that type of makeover over the last year thanks to the state’s Energize Connecticut’s Small Business Energy Advantage Program.

The affordable energy initiative, which was administered through the United Illuminating Company, has given the district — and its volunteer firefighters, the Trumbull Volunteer Fire Company No. 1 — new LED lighting inside and outside the building, upgraded sensory technology on all lights, cooling, heating and apparatus doors to avoid energy waste when not in use, and a natural gas generator that replaces the old diesel generator.

“Before everything we had was done manually, so the lights outside would be left on all night some nights,” said Dave Tiago, who handles facility and apparatus maintenance for the district. “Now, we have upgraded timers that are automatic so the lights are triggered with the sunset or the sunrise.

“It’s saving us a lot on energy costs,” he added. “We’ve increased our light capacity while reducing the number of lights in each row.”

Naturally, heating and cooling amount to the biggest savings, which is why Tiago is so excited about the the headquarters’ new Earthcore Energy Services system building’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) — which can be controlled at the touch of a finger.

“What we had was roof mounted AC units and radiators that provided the heating,” explained Trumbull Center Fire District Commissioner Paul Kurtz. “We disconnected those heating units on the second floor and got rid of the boiler that was feeding our hot water system.”

“What we have now is a split unit that’s fed by natural gas that reduces costs because it’s using fresh air to cool not-generated air to heat or cool the building,” said Tiago, who can control the panel from his iPad at home. “In the apparatus room, we still have radiators that are fed by a small boiler, but it only feeds natural gas on demand; it’s not running constantly like it was before.”

Kurtz and Tiago also enjoy the fact that when the building’s big garage doors open, the hot or cold air stops.

“It can’t come on unless all the doors are closed,” Tiago explained.

Monitoring consumption

Earthcore, a Plainville-based company, was contracted through UI to install the system.

“We started this process about two years ago when Dave was tipped off about the small business energy program,” Kurtz said. “We had UI come and survey the building last year and what they found was that we weren’t as energy efficient as we could be, so we applied to be part of the program and their contractors came and upgraded our entire infrastructure to make our whole facility more modern.”

As Tiago puts it, the installation process, which lasted a little over three months, was so seamless that the firefighters and commissioners “didn’t know the contractors were even here.”

“They worked with what we had here and they couldn’t have been better to partner with on this project,” Kurtz added.

While the contracts have long since packed up and moved away from the operation, UI remains involved in monitoring the building’s energy consumption.

“They weren’t able to monitor before but now, with the panel out front, they can give us recommendations on what else we can do to be even more efficient,” Tiago said.

Let there be light

By removing the old, 10-watt fluorescent light ballasts and installing energy-efficient, four-watt ballasts, the firefighters on the floor of the apparatus bay — where the engines are parked ready for the next call — can see a lot better now.

“Those LED lights are brilliantly efficient,” Kurtz said. “What we had before was a mixed mash of older, fluorescent lights, and they weren’t energy efficient — or work efficient — at all.”

He and Tiago recalled crews using flashlights to work on engines at three in the morning.

“We always worried they couldn’t see,” the facilities manager said. “Now it’s like a stadium out there — you can see everything.”

The upgraded timers outside are a big help with cutting costs, but also for adding an extra security measure.

“The guys love it,” Kurtz said.

“They can’t control the temperature in the building anymore, which they complained about at first,” Tiago added. “But that’s better for us.”

Time to save

The White Plains Road building dates back to 1978.

Trumbull Center Fire District is its own municipality independent of the Town of Trumbull, which is why residents who live in that part of town pay an annual fire tax.

The district supplies the equipment, facility, tools, and resources to the volunteer firefighters located either at headquarters or a satellite building on Daniels Farm Road.

That 1950s-era satellite office is ripe for an energy facelift, too, and that’s why Kurtz and Tiago are in the preliminary stages of looking into how they could install a natural gas generator to replace the current diesel one that’s been in place for decades.

“We’d ultimately want to do everything we’ve done here at that facility,” Tiago said.

They just have to wait for UI to offer up a similar small business program and they’ll apply.

For now, they can celebrate the fact that they will be saving district taxpayers in the long run and that the loan they took out with UI will be paid off entirely in three or four years — thanks to the small business program and its 0% financing option.

“We’ll have saved ourselves $100,000 when it’s all said and done,” Kurtz said of the electric and gas bill savings.  

Despite the Trumbull Center Fire District’s grand list being down this year, they were able to keep the mill rate flat for residents thanks to the savings seen in the first year.

“They’ll see more of it,” Kurtz reassured.