The recently-released Fire Study done by Municipal Services recommends adding a fourth, new Fire Station as the City continues to grow, but controversially also suggests re-purposing the recently-renovated Central Fire Station into an EMS, or ambulance, outpost.
The Fire Study came out earlier this month from Donald Bliss, former New Hampshire Fire Marshal and owner of Municipal Services, and made 65 recommendations, of which only a fraction were controversial. The hope, Bliss said at a meeting two weeks ago, was to provide a roadmap forward as the City and its Fire Service continues to evolve.
A chief recommendation of the report – aside from the in-house ambulance issue that was resolved separately last week – was to construct and open a new fire station in the southern section of the City, preferably Lower Broadway.
“Based on what we see for your growth, we recommend a new Fire Station for the southern section of the city,” said Bliss. “I have to say your existing headquarters has some difficulties, particularly using it as an administrative headquarters. It’s not accessible to the public. You have to walk through the crew quarters area to get to the Fire Chief and Fire Prevention Offices. It’s really not designed for the operations of an urban Fire Department. We would encourage if there is a new station developed, that it would become the administrative headquarters.”
The study recommended keeping the recently-renovated Hancock Street station, the Ferry Street Station and building a new Fire Station and Headquarters on Lower Broadway in the Robin Street area, or any other place on the eastern side of Broadway. That would serve to cover an area that isn’t entirely covered correctly – that being the quickly growing Lower Broadway and Commercial Triangle areas. It would also allow for developing a modern administration and situation command center office.
However, the controversy comes in that they don’t recommend that the Department continue to use Central Fire as a traditional station, a recommendation opposed by the Everett Fire Union.
“We believe three stations provide adequate coverage so we would also recommend closing one existing station,” said Bliss. “Maybe keep the headquarters as an ambulance and rescue operations base.”
Union President Craig Hardy said they’ve been calling for a new station, but they don’t agree with closing an existing station.
“We don’t think that’s best,” he said. “We want a new fire station on the south end of the city, but we don’t need to also eliminate a station. We need to add stations.”
That will be a point of contention between the Fire administration, the City and the Union as they use the report to move forward. One key thing is that there will have to be some expansion or new structures to house the department as the City continues to grow.
“The City is going to be experiencing more rapid growth – the Commercial Triangle and the potential expansion of the casino and the expansion of the Silver Line…with some high rises and potential for biotech labs,” said Bliss. “All of this development will have an impact on your fire service and you will need to be ready for it.”
Hardy said there was another red flag for them in the report, and that was to remove the entire department out of Civil Service – something he said would take away important protections for the Department.
Bliss said by eliminating Civil Service hiring and firing practices, the City could be more nimble to hire and replace fire service workers without the red tape that comes with Civil Service. However, Hardy said what they call red tape is something his union calls job protection and the elimination of politics from the job.
“The Civil Service thing was a red flag for us,” he said. “I think it’s more about a City wish list. Then they parlayed that into racial diversity, and our lack of that. They said we are all white men and we aren’t all white men. The Department is predominately white men, but we have men of color…It’s a tough statement.”
The report by Bliss did identify that the racial and gender diversity on the Fire Department is not reflective of the City, and he said hiring should take that into account going forward.
“Simply put, your Fire Department does not reflect the population of your city at all,” he said.
Hardy said the Union is not disappointed with all of the study.
“The study is not all bad,” he said. “There are a lot of things in there we agree with…We do think the study was a little skewed to help the City…but the study also did us a lot of favors because it suggests things we’ve asked for over a long period of time.”
One of those is to implement the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standard for manpower that Hardy said they’ve been discussing for years, as well as providing a real health and wellness plan for all members.
The full study was presented to the Council two weeks ago, and does remain in Committee for further, detailed study.