NORTON -- The town had five fire stations only a few decades ago, believe it or not.
Today, with a much larger population, there is only one, the fire station headquarters off East Main Street (Route 123) next to Town Hall.
"Some call that progress. Some call it sad," Town Moderator Bill Gouveia said.
However, the fire station in Chartley will be reopened if voters in Tuesday's annual election pass the $2.2 million override of the state tax levy-limiting law Proposition 2 1/2.
"It had opened and closed numerous times in the late '80s and early '90s" due to budget constraints, Fire Chief Paul Schleicher said.
The station reopened in 1997 when four new firefighters came on board, and was open off and on after that. It was only open during the winter when Schleicher became chief in 2011, and he had to shut it in April 2012.
The station is reopened, though, when significant storms are predicted. Then, one of the town's ambulances is relocated and staffed at the small, two-bay station off South Worcester Street.
"If we have a hurricane or most likely a blizzard, I'll open it up," Schleicher said.
An ambulance, two firefighters and a lieutenant would be at the station around-the-clock if the money comes through, the fire chief said. There is already an engine there.
The override funds would be split evenly in the town budget between the town government and schools, with nearly half the town-side money earmarked to reopen the Chartley station.
The $521,000 for the fire station would provide for four firefighters at a cost of $204,000, over $90,000 for their health insurance and uniforms and equipment, $125,000 to renovate the station, and $100,000 for overtime to cover shifts for reopening the facility.
"It really has had no upgrades in a long time," Schleicher said, adding that there is no kitchen.
While the schools naturally have received a lot of attention with the override, the fire station has been in the spotlight as well.
Many residents say they can't understand how the heavily populated west end of town doesn't have its own fire station.
"Response time is necessary and crucial," parent Rachel McIntyre said.
"I wish that Chartley Fire Station would reopen," resident Lauren Bukowski said, vowing to get another job if she has to to pay her tax bill.
There is a sign outside the station telling those seeking assistance to pull the firebox for an emergency.
"I heard a lot of complaints over the years," said selectmen Chairman Robert Kimball, calling the reopening of the station the "most important issue we have to address."
However, resident Marilyn Oliveri says, "I don't think we can afford to open it."
While the west end used to be where many residents lived, the east end, with its mix of several affordable housing projects and pricey homes, has been getting more populated.
"In the old days Chartley was the built-up section of town and the east was farmland," Schleicher said. "With Chartley being so lopsided and near Attleboro, for me to open Chartley up, it penalizes the other side of town."
But the fire chief said the long-term goal has been to reopen Chartley.
"We've been trying to slowly grow the fire fighting force" to reopen the station, Schleicher said. That goal was moved along in 2011 when selectmen supported increasing ambulance fees to bring in more revenue. "The override makes it a little quicker," the chief said.
The Chartley station dates back to the late 1950s - the second floor was constructed by firefighters in early '70s.
The station was officially named the Harold "Hank" Wetherell Station in 1998 after the town's first fire chief, who served in that post for four decades until 1970. He died in October 2006 at age 100.
Wetherell, a lifelong Chartley resident, donated the land where the station was built and ran the Wetherell Paint Co. next to the station when he wasn't fighting fires.
"It's unfortunate," Schleicher said. "At one time we had five fire stations spread around town all staffed with at least one firefighter."
Besides Chartley, there were stations in Barrowsville, also in the west end, off Reservoir Street and off Bay Road in Winnecunnet. Also, the senior center off West Main near the center of town was once a fire station.
The Winnecunnet station was knocked down in 2010.
"Once you stop using a structure and don't heat it, it quickly deteriorates," Schleicher said, adding mold, mildew and rusting joints made "it just structurally unsound."
Kimball said he fears the same thing will happen with the Chartley station.
"It's on the same path," he said, adding of the Bay Road station, "We did nothing to take care of it, the roof was caving in. It was an embarrassment.
The Barrowsville station, which had been a call firefighter station for years, now houses fire alarm and brush trucks and the town's emergency management.
"You understood how important it was to have that personnel for safety in our neighborhoods," Kimball said of the time when the town had several stations.
STEPHEN PETERSON covers Norton for The Sun Chronicle. He can be reached at 508-236-0377 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.