New Bedford’s Fire Department Is Too Thin for Comfort [OPINION]
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell still plans to remove Engine 8 from service, even after a series of large fires that rocked the city since Thanksgiving when three multi-family houses burned on Washburn Street.
Mitchell said on my program Wednesday that he plans to replace Engine 8 with a hybrid vehicle known as a "quint" that is both an engine and a ladder truck. His critics say there is no comparison between the two pieces of apparatus.
Veteran City Councilor Brian Gomes, who chairs the council's Public Safety Committee, also called into the program to inform us that the quint Mitchell has purchased is 15 years old and "someone else's headache." He said the vehicle is too large to maneuver the tight streets in the near-North End and is a tight squeeze for Station 8 on Acushnet Avenue.
Gomes will ask his colleagues again tonight to write to Mitchell urging him to find funds to keep Engine 8 in service. Several councilors tell me they plan to support Gomes' motion. The council voted 8-1 in August to oppose the decommissioning of Engine 8. Councilor Linda Morad was the lone dissenting vote, and Councilors Hugh Dunn and Deborah Coelho missed the meeting.
Firefighters from Fairhaven and Fall River have expressed concerns that the Mitchell Administration may have reduced its firefighting capacity to the point of having to rely too heavily on mutual aid when there are fires. Gomes agrees, but Mitchell says town firefighters are politicizing the issue as part of a contract negotiating process involving New Bedford firefighters. Not everyone who expresses concern is under the spell of the unions.
Mitchell said New Bedford only sought mutual assistance from the towns four times last year, down from five the year before and seven in 2018. This year, area towns have provided mutual aid to New Bedford four times, and it's only February.
Gomes said the New Bedford Fire Department is so thin that apparatus cannot be moved from station to station to provide coverage to an area during a fire because there are not enough pieces in service. Mitchell said he will request a federal SAFER staffing grant to keep Engine 8 functioning, but it could be many months at the earliest before money might be available, if at all.
Mitchell needs to work with the city council to identify funding sources to keep Engine 8 operational. Taxpayers deserve to feel secure in the ability of the city to keep them safe. It is not apparent that they do at this time.
LISTEN: Firefighters Ed Freitas of Fairhaven and Jason Burns of Fall River with Chris McCarthy:
LISTEN: New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell with Barry Richard:
LISTEN: City Council Committee on Public Safety Chair Brian Gomes with Barry Richard:
Barry Richard is the host of The Barry Richard Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from noon to 3 p.m. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @BarryJRichard58. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.