Aging Fire House Problematic

For some of us, the 1980s seem like just yesterday – a time when computers were beginning to enter everyday business activities and mobile phones were the size of a regular wall-mounted phone. But when it comes to public safety having effective equipment, getting with the times is critical. Just ask Chief Andrew Murray of the Mattapoisett Fire Department.

“We are going to be stuck in the Eighties until we get a new firehouse,” Chief Murray told the Mattapoisett Finance Committee on February 1.

In a narrative he prepared in support of the department’s FY18 budget and capital plan, he wrote, …We cannot replace any vehicles until a new fire station is constructed. Our current fire station is lacking just about every necessity that a fire service requires today.”

            Murray explained that the aging structure does not have ventilation for removing vehicle exhaust, space to store equipment, or even adequate restroom facilities.

Murray pointed to an even more critical problem: safety equipment stored all over town.

“The hazmat trailer is at the Highway Department … [and] boats at local boat yards,” Murray said. Supplies are stored in a trailer at the fire station site, and the forestry truck is under a tent.

While all this is being managed, Murray said, given the lack of space in the building, hiring much needed professional staff and housing modern fire suppression vehicles would be impossible.

Town Administrator Michael Gagne discussed how the town could approach building a new, possibly shared, structure near the police station on property recently acquired. Gagne said that one option being explored was the construction of a building that would function as a fire station and town hall.

“There is cost effectiveness in shared spaces. Meeting space, lunchroom, one elevator – that’s the exercise I want to pursue,” Gagne said. He added, “I want to work with an architect now and see how that can be tweaked before going any further.”

On the bright side, Murray shared that a second firefighter had been hired to cover a variety of functions, including timely response to emergency calls. New hoses, refurbished fire trucks, and extrication tools all contributed to a better result during emergency responses, he said.

Murray said that the department is responding to approximately 600 calls per year versus the 100 calls handled in the 80s, returning to the theme of the antiquated status of the fire station.

Gagne said that the current estimate for a new firehouse structure is around $3.5 million. He said that, as the school debt is retired, a new bond could be taken out to cover building costs.

“We’ve got our challenges,” Gagne said. “We’ll have to put our heads together…. This isn’t going to be better,” he warned.

With various line item increases due to pending contractual employment agreements, uniforms, professional dues, and sick leave/vacation buybacks, Murray estimates the department’s FY18 budget at $495,144.

Also during the meeting, Highway Surveyor Barry Denham, armed with a realm of documents, presented his five-year equipment plan drily saying, “I don’t expect to get these things, but the next guy that has this job might be glad I put them on the list.”

The committee members good-naturedly gasped at a world where Denham would not be their go-to person.

On that theme, he offered a report on the work his department does in support of other town departments. The report demonstrated that every department uses the highway department services.

“Everyone that needs something calls us,” Denham said.

Of the equipment list he presented, Denham said they “badly needed” to replace the 1948 road grader at a cost of $159,000. He said the vehicle is used to crown and grade roadways for correct surfacing.

With new state and federal guidelines regarding the quality of water discharged from stormwater management systems, Denham listed an Elgin debris vacuum catch basin cleaner combination street sweeper.

He said, “It’s the right thing to do as stewards of the land.”

Gagne noted that the MR5 regulation from the EPA protects coastal waters.

Denham said that the 1995 Ford F450 truck could no longer be used for plowing purposes and was currently in the shop having the emergency brake repaired. He listed an estimated replacement cost of $65,000.

Denham’s analysis of the conditions of the public roads in town reported that two-thirds were in good condition, with the balance falling almost equally between fair and poor.

FY18 highway department budget estimates showed $22,000 for street signs and road painting; snow and ice removal at $92,000; and all other departmental budget estimates at $653,482.

The next meeting of the Mattapoisett Finance Committee is scheduled for February 8 at 6:30 pm in the town hall conference room.

By Marilou Newell


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