On June 30 the skies may have been gloomy, but faces were beaming with joy as local officials along with project planners, engineers and construction teams ceremonially broke ground for Mattapoisett’s New Fire Station. On hand to celebrate the moment were State Representative William Straus, Selectmen Jordan Collyer and John DeCosta, retired Town Administrator Mike Gagne, current Town Administrator Mike Lorenco, Director of Inspectional Services Andy Bobola, Police Chief Mary Lyons, Fire Chief Andrew Murray, and retired Fire Chief Ronald Scott. Rounding out those who gathered were members of the architectural group Contex, construction management team Vertex, and contractor Rubicon.
One volunteer whose leadership and expertise were acknowledged by Murray was Mike Hickey, chairman of the Mattapoisett Fire Station Building Committee. Hickey brought his many years of engineering know-how to the effort, along with volunteer Bill Cantor. The other Building Committee members included Collyer (who is also a captain on the Fire Department), Bobola, and Murray.
Leading up to the event, Murray told The Wanderer, “As far back as 1980 when apparatus started getting bigger, the old station was out of date.” For 12 years, a new fire station was placed on the Capital Needs list. Murray said that the need for a modern building was increasing year over year as safety standards issued by OSHA and the NFPA put firefighter safety at the forefront of regulations, as well as the increasing size of fire trucks. Murray said that one engine was designed to fit the station, not the needs of the department.
But the voters were not always ready to fund a new fire station. In fact, Town Meeting rejected an article to provide funding a new station some 10 years ago when then-Chief Ron Scott spearheaded what many believed was necessary even back then – a station that could house the increasing size of modern fire-suppression apparatus and meet OSHA standards geared to ensuring the health and safety of the department.
By May 2019 Town Meeting and after a yearlong effort on the part of the Mattapoisett Fire Station Building Committee, there was a sea change in attitudes based in understanding the issues the town faced with the aging station.
From that Spring Town Meeting, The Wanderer reported, Article 14: Fire Station Construction Project Funding was presented by Mike Hickey the chairman of the committee that spearheaded the project and Fire Chief Andrew Murray. Their presentation included a video that demonstrated the lack of safety systems inside the aged firehouse, health concerns when firefighters cannot adequately decontaminate personal gear and equipment as well as the lack of conformity to current OSHA standards.
Murray ratcheted up his campaign for funding a new fire station for over two years, making it clear that the town was in imminent danger of losing staff to health conditions and being hit by large fines for a building lacking modern-era safety standards. He would hit on the importance of having “…decontamination capabilities… shower, and vehicle exhaust systems.“ He stated, “These issues not only jeopardized the safety of the staff but put the town in harm’s way for fines imposed by regulatory agencies, namely the National Fire Protection Association and Occupational Safety and Health Administration… fines are estimated at over $100,000 for each offense.”
Yet pushback from downstream abutters persisted as concerns over stormwater runoff into the Pepperbush Lane neighborhood kept the engineering consultants seeking new solutions to old drainage issues, issues that emanated from the Police Station property. There was also concern expressed by homeowners living in the Mattapoisett Villages condominium complex next door. Lingering concerns were expressed on this day by Steve and Debra Pickup, who wanted to discuss tree removal and screening. A member of the Vertex team assured the couple that their concerns were being addressed and that ongoing dialogue was encouraged.
During the Planning Board meeting held on September 16, 2019, Katie Enright of Howard Stein Hudson explained in detail the new drainage system that would first address existing drainage problems and then the new drainage from the fire-station site.
Enright would show that a large underground drainage pipe that ran 500-feet from the police station to wetlands behind the skate park had for years dumped water in a manner that would not be allowed today. She said that plans for the new fire station would address those drainage issues, while also planning separately for drainage of the fire station itself.
Finding a way to fund the new station fell to Gagne and the Finance Committee. During the April 23, 2019 Board of Selectmen meeting held in advance of the May town meeting, Gagne explained the $9,275,000 funding by likening the financing to a “three-legged stool,” one that included new growth from solar P.I.L.O.T programs, retiring debt, and moderate override that would cost homeowners $13.38 per year. “It’s very doable,” Gagne said. He pointed to retiring debt as the biggest contributor to the financing plan with approximately $8,000,000 freed up within the next six years.
Murray explained during one of his many presentations to town departments, clubs, boards, and committees that modern-day construction materials contain glues and chemical-rich combustibles that emit particulates and other highly carcinogenic elements. The dust and smoke associated with structure fires today present far more exposure to dangerous soot than ever before, he said.
As the shovels were being passed around, Collyer told the assembled, “It’s been a long road; the department needs this to support and protect you.”
Hickey said the process of securing funding and moving a project of this size from concept to completion required, “need, timing, planning, selling and support.” He noted the support of all the town’s committees and boards and the voters. He said that Town Meeting support and the ongoing encouragement of the fire department members were appreciated.
The 14-month construction phase has begun with new drainage systems being installed behind the police station. There are pending items on the to-do checklist according to Hickey, such as traffic lights and curb-cuts on Route 6. But he said those matters were being dealt with and expected closure soon.
Seeing is believing, they say, so when Murray had the 1949 Engine Four brought to the construction site and parked beside the modern Engine One, it was clear that size matters. The older engine was dwarfed by the newer version. And, if you are wondering, the current fire station was opened in 1954 under the supervision of Chief George C. Bradley. The building was obsolete by the early 1970s.
Murray said the new fire station is planned to have a shelf life of 50 years.
By Marilou Newell