Though it’s still a controversial subject within City government, firefighters this week said that having a fourth engine company deployed during the Washington Avenue Bridge project – and paid for by the state Department of Transportation (DOT) during the project – has resulted in taking the stress off of Engine 2, one of the busiest engines in America.
“The fourth engine has worked exactly as planned for the Fire Department,” said Deputy Chief John Quatieri. “Engine 4 has responded to over 750 calls since going in service the end of May and was the first engine to arrive at several fires. Engine 2 has responded to over 900 calls during the same time period. So, you can see that if Engine 4 was not in service, Engine 2 would have handled all 1,650 responses, leaving that section of the city without an engine company during those calls.”
Quatieri said from January to May 24 (when the bridge closed), the responses were as follows:
- Engine 1 – 931
- Engine 2 – 2,110
- Engine 3 – 1,110
Conversely, from May 25 to Sept. 4, the responses were:
- Engine 1 – 508
- Engine 2 – 844
- Engine 3 – 767
- Engine 4 – 738
The fourth engine has long been controversial in Chelsea, with the Fire Department calling for a fourth company to be instituted and even the possibility of a new station as well. The City and the City Council have never been in agreement that such an increase in coverage is necessary, having routinely disputed the idea.
The fourth engine company came to a head a few years ago when the Fire Matrix Report was issued, a report that both praised and criticized the Fire Department on many fronts. One of the findings, however, was that Engine 2 – one of the busiest engines by call volume in America – was responding to too many incidents. The report made many suggestions as to how to fix that, with one suggestion being to add a fourth engine company.
When the 19-month Washington Avenue Bridge closure was announced – which started this past May – former City Manager Jay Ash and fire officials were able to convince DOT to fund a fourth engine company for the duration of that project. That came due to the fact that it was nearly impossible to respond to some areas without the bridge intact.
City Manager Tom Ambrosino said he still doesn’t see the need for a fourth engine company, but isn’t ruling it out.
“At this point, I’m not convinced of the need for a fourth engine or fourth station,” he said. “However, I have made clear that I will keep an open mind on the issue, and it will be one of the items that I have my permanent chief look at once I make that personnel decision.”
City Council President Leo Robinson indicated the Council wasn’t too receptive of the idea, even with the test run allowed by the bridge closure. But, he too, didn’t rule it out.
“My only comment is everything is negotiable because they have to come back before the Council,” he said.
The fourth engine company right now is based out of the Central Fire Station with Engine 2 and Tower 1 (which does not carry water, like an engine). The Department said this configuration allows them to have two engines and one ladder truck on each side of the closure – accounting for the Mill Hill and Prattville stations.
“This compliment of apparatus with nine firefighters is enough to start an initial operation in the event of a structure fire on either side of the closure,” Quatieri said. “Three of the nine firefighters will operate the two engines and one ladder company, leaving six firefighters to deploy one hose line and to initiate an interior search of the fire building for possible trapped occupants until the arrival of addition units from the other side of the closure.
“Based on past history and the obvious safety hazard present throughout the city with wood frame buildings spaced so closely together, the Fire Department only has minutes to suppress a fire before its spreads to adjacent buildings,” he continued. “This is why it is so important to have an engine company on scene quickly to immediately deploy an interior attack hose line to contain the fire to the one building.”
He recalled the fire last year during Labor Day weekend on Arlington Street where it quickly spread to five residential buildings, and the department had to let it burn for 15 minutes until an engine company from a neighboring city – on mutual aid – was able to arrive.
“With all five of the Fire Department’s units on scene, two of the five buildings had to be allowed to burn until the first mutual aid engine company arrived, which was 15 minutes into the fire,” he said.