High-ranking members of the Chelsea Fire Department (CFD) and Fire Union officials said this week after conducting a risk assessment of the new FBI building response requirements they are nowhere near ready to handle such a facility.
That comes, however, in direct contradiction to the opinion of City Manager Jay Ash, who doesn’t believe the new facility will require any extraordinary staff increases from the CFD.
“Right now, we’re nowhere near ready to handle that kind of impact,” said Deputy Chief John Quatieri. “There are a lot of concerns there for the department. We have a lot of restrictions in our responses there. We met with them and we couldn’t even see the floor plans due to the nature of the building. There’s also a lot of accountability things we have to learn and prepare for. For instance, we cannot even use our radios when we’re in there…Like it or not, their buildings are an absolute target hazard and there are a lot of things to be prepared for and we have a lot of work ahead of us if we’re going to be anywhere near ready.”
That was echoed by Fire Union President Brian Capistran, who said dangerous responses and staffing concern his membership the most when talking about the FBI building.
“The concerns we have are about staffing and how we will have an adequate response to that building,” he said. “We’re hand-in-hand with the command staff on this issue. We’re definitely not ready. We’re unable to respond in the ways that Boston responds right now to the existing FBI building. We only have 17 firefighters on a shift right now. Boston sends a response of 36 at a minimum.”
City Manager Jay Ash said he has heard the concerns, but does not believe the FBI facility would require any more or less of a response than existing office buildings in Chelsea – hinting that the concerns of the department might be related to a continued desire to get more staffing.
“We are adequately staffed to handle all needs in the city presently and as foreseen by approved future projects, including responding to a fire emergency at that building once it is built,” he said this week. “In fact, the Matrix fire study confirms just that. There are some in the Fire Department who want more personnel and equipment to be placed into service. However, our study does indicate that we are staffed to meet the services we need to provide. We do continue to consider all requests from all departments about expansion desires, but we do have a limited capacity to meet those expansion requests…There should be an emergency plan created for the building, just as there is for other buildings in the city, but our study indicates that our regular plan of responding to an emergency there is appropriate.”
He said the FBI building would not even be the tallest building in the city, and would really be mostly offices and office workers.
“The proposed federal office building will not be the tallest building in the city, will not be the biggest in terms of square footage, and is generally an office building with office type work being done in it,” he continued. “It is no different than many other federal office buildings around the state and country and it will have a security plan that will meet the needs of its workers and interface with our public safety respondents. If we were proposing to build something out of the ordinary, like a power plant, I think those concerns would be more valid. However, this project, while high profile, is very similar to many other buildings in Chelsea and exactly like numerous buildings around the country.”
Fire officials, however, (both union and administrative) point to an analysis completed earlier this summer by the CFD (July 14) after meeting with the FBI and going over a risk assessment on July 8.
One of the key concerns in the analysis is the fact that Chelsea Fire lacks the staffing that Boston currently devotes to the existing FBI building in downtown Boston.
For example, the July report cites that on a simple alarm call, Boston sends 10 companies with 36 firefighters to the scene. Chelsea Fire would only be able to send 6 companies of 17 firefighters.
If there is a call for smoke showing in the FBI high-rise in Boston, the Boston Fire Department sends 16 companies of 49 firefighters. Once again, Chelsea Fire would only be able to send 6 companies with 17 firefighters to such an emergency.
That, the report states, is particularly troubling for protecting the new FBI building and for protecting the safety of firefighters.
“This is a decisive tactical problem for the Chelsea Fire Department as there are not adequate resources to handle a 1st alarm response for a building of this type,” read the Department’s report. “According to the 2013 Matrix Report, the initial response of 50-51 personnel is required to effectively operate at a facility such as the FBI. The Boston Fire Department clearly recognizes this fact and has planned accordingly. The Chelsea Fire Department is not adequately prepared to effectively respond to a building of this type.”
Another major concern of the report is preparing for the worst, and in the case of an FBI headquarters, the worst is a terrorist attack such as occurred in 1995 at the Oklahoma City federal building. As a refresher, that tragedy killed 168 people, including many children at a daycare, and damaged more than 300 buildings in a 16-block radius.
Such an attack on the new Chelsea FBI building would affect nearly all of the western part of the City, and also parts of surrounding cities.
In the CFD analysis, there is a belief that they could not handle that kind of emergency – even with outside help.
“Understandably, the department will also need to prepare for worst-case scenarios such as the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995,” read the report. “This was a domestic terrorist bomb attack on a federal facility similar to the one proposed in Chelsea. A bomb was detonated in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City. The bombing claimed 168 lives and injured more than 680 people. The blast destroyed or damaged 324 buildings within a 16-block radius, destroyed or burned 86 cars, and shattered glass in 258 nearby buildings.”
In the end of that section, the report concludes that Chelsea’s existing staffing and preparedness are not in any way ready to handle a facility like the new FBI building.
“Currently, the department does not have appropriate staffing to sufficiently administer the many levels of ICS necessary to manage an incident at the proposed FBI facility,” read the report. “Emergency response to the FBI facility will be tumultuous at best. The department does not presently meet the National Standard for a high-rise fire response.”
Capistran said bringing in the FBI facility without completely addressing fire, haz-mat and terrorism responses would be a mistake.
“People say that because of all the fires we have and the way we have been able to knock them down and really preserve a lot of personal property and have had no fatalities, that we’re doing a very good job,” he said. “That may be true, but we’re also just lucky. We’re gambling every day on every shift. We have gambled and gotten lucky. We think it will catch up to us if we don’t address these things.”