New Bedford Fire Union: Engine, Ladder Company Forced to Relocate
NEW BEDFORD — The city's busiest firehouse will see an engine and ladder truck both relocated to other stations for the next four months during renovations.
The New Bedford Firefighters Local 841 issued a public service announcement to inform residents of impending changes to Station 2, the Pleasant Street headquarters of the New Bedford Fire Department, which covers the downtown and far West End areas of the city.
"For one thing, we wanted to put it out there so people in the area were aware that there's a change in their level of service," Union President Thomas Carreiro told WBSM News. "And two, if the City wants to reconsider what it is that they're doing, we advocate for that."
Carreiro says some of the changes could have been avoided with an easy, cheap fix.
"This is a $600,000 project that the cost to at least keep the engine and that station open 24 hours is $500," he said. "Someone didn't want to spend it."
According to Carreiro, the apparatus floor at Station 2 has some structural issues, and sections of the floor will have to be removed for structural repairs, and then a new floor will be poured. As a result, Engine 1 and Ladder 1 will not be able to park within the station house during the estimated four months it will take to complete the repairs.
The plan is for Ladder 1 to be sent to Station 5 in the far North End of the city (Sassaquin), and remain out of service as a blacked out company. It will be in operation only when there is additional manpower available. Otherwise, Ladder 3 from Station 6 in the South End and Ladder 4 from Station 8 in the North End will double their responsibility by covering Ladder 1's area.
Engine Company 1 will remain at Station 2 from 8 a.m. until 10 p.m. each day, but then will be transferred to Station 7 for the overnight hours.
"We offered some alternatives to keep the engine and ladder still within their first response district. Some of those suggestions come at a cost, and some at more of a cost than others," Carreiro said.
One suggestion was to move Engine 1 to Station 3 on Kempton Street, keeping it close to its district.
"But some infrastructure needed to be repaired to do that," Carreiro said. "The exhaust system that takes the diesel fumes out of the air when we pull into that station would need to be repaired, and that was not a repair they were willing to make."
Another suggestion to keep Ladder 1 within the district would have involved running out of the City Yard, from the Fire Garage on Liberty Street.
"The expense involved with that would be having a temporary trailer brought in to house our guys over those four months, which would have kept the ladder truck still within the first response area," Carreiro said. "We think that some of our suggestions are valid, and they come at minimal expense, and that seems to be the biggest concern that they had, was the cost of it."
New Bedford Fire Department Chief Michael Gomes called the union's alternatives "not feasible," as the repairs to Station 2 would only require four months to complete, and would not warrant the addition of any temporary infrastructure to house the fire engines or their companies. Chief Gomes said the most practical option was keep Engine 1 at Station 2 during the day, and then run the Engine out of Station 7 overnight, as the difference between the stations is only 1.1 miles. "Engine 1 is still operating where the heart of the population is," said Gomes.
Gomes also defended the relocation of Ladder 1 to Station 5, saying that is the only station in New Bedford large enough to accommodate a ladder truck without incurring further costs to the City for temporary housing.
Carreiro also said the union proposed "the cheapest way" to keep the engine in service downtown.
"(It) would be to grab some additional construction fencing and just be able to fence off an area that is available at the station house, and keep the engine in place," he said. "Then in the evening, it's within a secured, gated area, and then our guys could remain at the station and respond right from there."
He said the union requested some pricing on that option from the City, but when no response was given, the firefighters contacted a contracting company that supplies the fencing, and were told it could be had for about $550. Still, he said the City opted not to go that route.
"Somewhere in the process, they failed to look at accommodations that could keep the engine and the ladder company in their first response district," Carreiro said. "We came up with some suggestions, but it's up to them to decide whether they want to run with those, or if they feel there's something better. But their interest is not to keep the station open overnight."
Chief Gomes countered Carreiro's construction fencing suggestion, saying Station 2 has a small footprint, and the plan would likely have construction fence gates swinging open onto Purchase Street, halting traffic as Engine 1 made it's way out of the fencing, with crews having to close the gates once the engine is in the roadway. "The difference in time is marginally if at all faster than (Engine 1) being at Station 7," said Gomes.
Carreiro said that with the apparatus being moved around, there will be a longer response time and a greater risk, both to the public and to firefighters.
"A lot of firefighting work, a lot of lifesaving work happens in the first few minutes of a call," he said. "Making them respond from a second location, there's a delay, not only for the public and those folks that are in our need, but also it comes down to firefighter safety and our ability to respond and get in and do the best job that we can."
Chief Gomes says he doubts there will be any difference in response times under the temporary relocation plan, adding he has total faith in the City's firefighters. "We have a pretty robust Fire Department," boasted Gomes.