Those working on the Chelsea Fire Department’s Engine 2 shouldn’t invest in chairs.
The engine gets so many calls and goes on so many runs, that if firefighters manning the apparatus did have chairs, they’d never be used.
“I know we do more runs on this engine in one year than a lot of fire departments do in a year with their entire contingent,” said Rob Better, one member of the company that man’s the engine. “I transferred in several years ago from Marblehead and this engine does like 1,000 more calls a year than the entire Marblehead department does. It’s like you get done with one call and then it’s on to another. A quiet night can be like 25 calls in 24 hours. It’s a busy engine for sure.”
Better and the other two firefighters on Engine 2 this past Monday stopped for a quick interview in between successive calls to Admiral’s Hill and then lower Broadway. They rarely stray too far from the Engine or take off their equipment when on duty because they will likely be called out before they can even get upstairs from the Central Fire Station’s garage.
Such was the case on Monday.
Just as they got back from Admiral’s Hill and visited for a few minutes with a reporter, they were called off for a medical call on Broadway. It was barely past noon and already they had made 12 runs since midnight.
And statistics bear that out annually, with Engine 2 being in the top 20 busiest engines in the U.S. by sheer call volume, and being in the top five busiest engines per capita in the nation.
According to Fire Department statistics, in 2007, Engine 2 responded to 3,339 calls. Since that time, the calls have increased dramatically as the City has developed. Last year, conservative estimates had them responding to 4,099 calls, though that number will probably be revised up to more than 4,200 when the books are finalized. By contrast, in 2011, Engine 2 had 4,269 call responses, making it easily one of the busiest engines in the state.
Per capita, another busy engine in the U.S. is located in Washington, D.C. and had 250 calls per 1,000 residents. Last year, Engine 2 reached 267 calls per 1,000 residents.
In comparison to others nearby:
•Boston Engine 33 – 3,546 calls (49th in the U.S.)
•Cambridge Engine 2 – 3,002 calls (79th in the U.S.)
•Brockton Engine 5 – 2,902 calls (86th in the U.S.)
•Somerville Engine 3 – 2,491 calls (107th in the U.S.)
Deputy Chief John Quatieri said most of the firefighters who choose to work on Engine 2 know what they’re getting into.
“Everything here is done with a bid process and they bid to work on that engine,” he said. “The guys on that piece know when they bid on that truck they have bid onto a busy company and they’ll be going most of the time.”
And not only are they busy, they also have to be ready for anything. While most calls are medical calls, and some calls don’t pan out, others are of the most serious of situations. Just last week, on Jan. 13, Engine 2 responded to a home on Bloomingdale Street and found a woman who was 8-months pregnant and in cardiac arrest. She was treated by the company at the scene and sent to Mass General Hospital, where she and the baby did recover.
“You really have to be ready for anything at any time,” said Engine 2 firefighter David Asci. “You’re always going on this engine and you could encounter anything. You could be responding to everything from a malfunctioning button on a fire alarm panel to a routine medical aid call to a plane crash or even a life and death situation. There are so many things that can happen in Chelsea and we would likely be the first on the scene for any number of emergencies.”
Part of the reason the engine finds itself so busy, Quatieri said, goes back to receivership in the 1980s. When the City was reorganized by the receiver, several stations were closed down and operations were consolidated into Central Fire. That was fine for quite some time, when the City was still in the dregs and new development was unheard of. Now, however, things are on the upswing and more people are in Chelsea, which in turn means more calls to the Fire Department.
“A big part of the reason they are so busy is that there used to be three stations in this part of the City and now there is just one,” he said. “They cover a lot of ground now. That engine covers a pretty large area of the city, even though Chelsea is only two square miles. They pick up the responses that were handled by three fire stations back in the 1980s.”
This situation – as well as the overtaxed Engine 2 – was a primary concern of the Matrix Report, a top to bottom review of the Fire Department unveiled in the Spring of 2013. While nearly two-thirds of the recommendations now have been address, the tough decisions in that report still remain – including whether or not to add another engine to reduce the call volumes being handled by Engine 2.
“We have had discussions with the City Manager and he is listening to us and we’re trying to find solutions,” said Quatieri. “We’ll see where that goes.”
For now, “go” is the key word, and as the members on Engine 2 laughed about not ever being able to watch a New England Patriots football game all the way through, an alarm sounded and once again they had to go.
Just where they were going next, and what they would actually find when they got there, was anybody’s guess – and part of a normal day on Engine 2.