Mattapoisett Fire Chief Andrew Murray met with the Mattapoisett Finance Committee on March 8 to discuss the fiscal year 2019 budget proposal. What ensued after a brief financial rundown was a full-blown presentation on the severity of the conditions in the fire station and the impact those conditions are having on his personnel.
Murray began the PowerPoint presentation with what he termed “Fun Facts.” He said the current station located at the corner of Route 6 and Barstow Street was built in 1952, at a time when the department responded to 34 calls per year, Interstate 195 had not been constructed, there was no full-time staff, the population hovered around 2,200, and fire engines were considerably smaller in size. He said all the equipment needed by the first responders easily fit into the building and that synthetic combustibles were nearly unknown, making the inhalation and exposure to carcinogens low.
Murray contrasted those facts with the 21st century realities his department now faces.
The fire department receives an average of 535 calls per year, Murray explained, for a population now pegged at over 6,000 and expanding to 12,000 during the summer months.
Murray said modern-day construction materials contain “glues” and other inorganic materials that off-gas deadly smoke and fumes when burned. “A U.L. study showed that in the Fifties, it took thirty minutes for a building to flash over…. Now with combustibles, it takes three minutes,” he said.
Regarding the opening of Interstate 195 that slices through the community to the north, Murray stated, “[Interstate] 195 brings a whole new dynamic to what we do.”
Building his case that the current fire station is insufficient for the tasks demanded by the public’s needs, Murray said that equipment has to be spread throughout the town wherever space is available. Fire boats are kept at local marinas, forestry equipment outside under a tent that was recently torn apart in a storm, hazmat equipment is at the Highway Department barn, water tankers are at the Water and Sewer Department treatment plant, and if there is a contamination spill, the cleanup materials are at the transfer station.
But the biggest glaring problem facing the chief and his personnel is the building itself – it doesn’t have an exhaust system.
Every time the fire apparatus is started up, diesel fumes – a known carcinogen – fill the building including the office space carved out of the attic area over the apparatus floor. Murray said everything from the office equipment to the people who have to work in the space is exposed to noxious fumes and particulates.
In addition to all that, the structure itself is failing.
Murray said local businesses have helped prop up the building over the years with building materials and landscaping, but those cosmetics can’t fix all the problems.
The presentation included visual evidence that the fire station is bursting at the seams. Inches separate the apparatus from the overhead doors. Nearly every infrastructure has had to be relocated to gain a few inches of space for the modern fire trucks to squeeze inside.
Time and again Murray returned to his personnel concerns – “I feel like I’m failing my own staff.”
He said that when fire personnel return from an incident, there aren’t any showers and nowhere in the building to change out of contaminated clothing before returning home. There isn’t an eye station, there’s a single restroom, and no accommodation for female personnel.
“During the recent storm, I had staff going to my house to shower,” Murray said.
Murray said, between himself and other fire personnel, repairs to the building have been done, some donations from local businesses have helped, and fundraising had allowed some equipment to be purchased.
But Murray felt he had waited long enough, had been patient long enough.
“This town has gotten away with a lot because of the people in the fire station,” Murray stated.
Murray pointed to the other town departments and buildings that the community has supported over supporting the Fire Department. Everything from the Police Department to the local and regional schools and the library, all of which he considered worthy areas for investment, but now the Fire Department needed immediate attention.
Given all these deficiencies, Murray said, it was very difficult to attract new fire personnel. “We are not in the twenty-first century.”
Town Administrator Michael Gagne said he would put together a program for local television explaining the situation, saying, “It’s time to make the change and protect the public and the fire personnel.” He said that he has been working with an architect and estimator and plans to have solid budget estimates soon.
Regarding how a new fire station could be funded, Gagne said that three large capitol improvement projects had decreased considerably, “…so we have some debt capacity…” He also said short- and long-term bonds could be used. The selectmen would have to approve a debt exclusion, Gagne added, and Town Meeting would have to pass a warrant article for the project.
Finance Committee member Colby Rottler told Murray, “You need to take this on the road,” suggesting that educating the public was necessary.
Paul Ambrosia, another FinCom member, said, “We need a new fire station now!”
In other business, Board of Health Agent Dale Barrows and new part-time assistant Kate Tapper presented a FY19 budget with modest increases primarily due to the contract with SEMASS. The FY19 budget request for SEMASS stands at $185,000.
The public health nurse and transfer station budgets are planned to have 2% or less in increases over FY18. The projected FY19 budget figures are: transfer station, $89,400; Board of Health, $137,517; public health nurse, $81,459; recycling pick-up, $169,176; rubbish pick-up, $279,384.
In closing out his comments, Barrows said, “You might not be seeing me again,” referring to his upcoming retirement plans.
The next meeting of the Mattapoisett Finance Committee was scheduled for March 14 at 6:30 pm in the town hall conference room.
Mattapoisett Finance Committee
By Marilou Newell