Matrix Fire Study: Fourth Station, Key Demand in Long-Awaited Fire Meeting

After more than a year of waiting for a meeting with the City Council, Chelsea Fire union officials got their day last week in a meeting concerning the meatier portions of the Matrix Fire Study – and key within that meeting last week was the addition of a fourth station on Williams Street.

The Matrix Report was done more than two years ago and became public in April 2013. Some 70 percent of the recommendations that were considered to be “low hanging fruit” have already been implemented, but a meeting on the more serious matters of staffing, equipment and facilities never took place until last week.

Council President Matt Frank scheduled the meeting this summer as Fire Union leaders grew impatient and frustrated. Councillor Clifford Cunningham chaired the meeting at Frank’s request, and presided over a Council that mostly considered more expenditures for fire a hard sell.

Deputy Chief John Quatieri was the chief spokesperson for the union and said after the meeting that they were happy with the way the meeting went. He said the department relied upon bringing in an outside expert to analyze the Matrix suggestions and to look into staffing in the department.

That expert was Boston Dep. Chief Joe Fleming of Division 2 in that city.

In written comments to the Council and in his presentation, he said he had concluded that the Chelsea Fire Department is understaffed.

“The City of Chelsea has understaffed the Chelsea Fire Department compared to recommended national guidelines,” he wrote. “This has led to increased, and needless, risk to firefighters and the public they are sworn to protect.”

One of the main solutions proposed by the Fire Department, and a third alternative in the Matrix Report, was to build a new station near Everett Avenue.

Fleming said that was important because it is important to meet 4-minute response times due to the fact that a building fire turns to flashover in 3-7 minutes. Once flashover occurs, search and rescue operations must cease, meaning occupants or firefighters in the building would likely lose their lives. Currently, CFD responses to the southern part of the city are not hitting the 4-minute rule, Fleming said.

He suggested that even if a four-firefighter engine company could not be funded, perhaps a station with a three-firefighter company would be better than adding additional firefighters to already existing companies.

“Adding an EMS Squad manned by two CFD firefighters does not solve the EMS response problem into parts of Engine 2’s response area,” he wrote. “It would reduce Engine 2’s responses, however, if the city is willing to add a squad with 2 firefighters. Why not just add an Engine Company with three firefighters? This would resolve a multitude of issues identified in the Matrix Report…A 3 person ‘quick response’ is better than a 4 person ‘late response.’ Adding an extra engine company with three firefighters may be better than adding an additional firefighter to each current unit.”

City Manager Jay Ash said he is taking the discussion under consideration and looking at the City’s ability to finance such a change, but he added that estimates put a new station and engine company at $2 million a year.

“I’m reviewing everything that was discussed and suggested,” he said. “Most of the things they cited were best practices rather than a standard rule. We’re not in violation of anything. Also, any new station could come at a cost as high as $2 million a year – for both personnel and hard costs. I’m taking the proposal seriously, but first we have to identify the impacts.”

He said the last permanent fourth station in the City was closed in the 1990s under receivership.

A good many councillors hearing the presentation were skeptical to put it mildly. Many are hesitant to spend any more money on the department, and there is still a good deal of bad public relations between the union and the Council following a messy contract dispute last year – not to mention some pointed criticisms of the City in the wake of winning the All-American City Award.

Convincing the full Council, likely, could be harder even than winning over Ash.

As for the station, Quatieri said the area identified so far has been on Williams Street in the area of the old Top Gas site.

“The Old Top Gas site was mentioned as an ideal location where it is in the section of the city where we do not meet response time standards,” said Quatieri. ” It’s also vacant at the moment.”

City Councillor Giovanni Recupero said he could not support a station that was outside of his district – given that there are persistent dangerous, overcrowding situations throughout this district and frequent fires in overcrowded illegal rooming houses.

He said he wanted any station to be located on Marginal Street so that fire crews would be able to go up the one-way streets to the neighborhoods in his district.

“The Fire Union told us they really want a new station and they want it nice and easy on Williams Street,” he said. “I think they need to put any new station in my district on Marginal Street where about all the fires and incidents happen. There is vacant land for lease a very short distance from the Williams Street site they want. That way they could get to the southern part of the city that they’re talking about, and they could also get quickly up the one ways into my district. Admiral’s Hill and Everett Avenue would only be minutes from that site. If they want a new station, I think they need to look at that.”

Quatieri said they have considered that site on Marginal Street, but had overriding concerns.

“The Marginal Street site was talked about years ago but scrapped because of the close proximity to the Meridian Street Bridge, which would hamper responses when the bridge us up and traffic backs up,” he said. “Also, the fire department was concerned with using Hawthorne Street or Shurtleff Street as primary response routes with the Early Learning Center right there.”

Further meetings on the subject have not been set, but Cunningham is likely to request another at some point in the fall.

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