Fire Chief Michael Curran last night expressed support for the Permanant Building Committee's plan for a new fire station and addressed reports of misinformation in a presentation to the Board of Selectmen.
Curran and Town Manager Paul Cohen presented slides comparing Chelmsford to Arlington and Nashua, N.H. Those slides can be seen as photos to the right. Arlington recently renovated a fire station and Nashua recently constructed a new one.
Curran said the recently renovated Arlington station was built during the 1920s, during a time of significant population growth for the town. Cohen said Chelmsford's station headquarters was built in the 1950s, but the town's population grew by more than 500 percent between 1960 and 1970.
Cohen also compared each town's Fire Department budget: $5.3 million for Arlington; $4.5 million for Chelmsford; and $14 million for Nashua.
While Nashua has nine front-line vehicles, Chelmsford has five, Curran said. Nashua's Fire Department has 19 bays while Chelmsford operates with 12. Curran said looking at Chelmsford's Fire Department and comparing it to Nashua's is "comparing apples and oranges."
"This information is from the fire chiefs of the two departments," said Curran. "The Highland Street station in Arlington was renovated and had its floor removed, but it’s a slab on grade. There is no cellar but (in Chelmsford's headquarters) there is a full basement. The total cost was $4.2 million for Arlington to renovate in 2009."
Curran said he spoke to the town's engineer and the building would have to be shored up - which would be more expensive than replacing a "slab on grade." Curran said that Arlington station was also a substation and not a headquarters.
"The two stations were renovated (in Arlington) and one was replaced with a new station. The one bay station was a $2 million renovation. The center station, which is their headquarters, was $1.3 million to replace the roof, windows, and re-pointing brick on a six-bay station," he said.
Curran said more renovations in Arlington to the tune of $5 million are set for 2014 in the town's capital plan.
Curran explained the current headquarters' shortfalls. The trucks have to be custom-made to fit inside the small bays, Curran said, which drives up the cost of the trucks. The trucks must be pulled out of the bays to do regular maintenance on them, Curran said, but when they're pulled out there is only one or two feet of space between the truck and the roadway.
"It's dangerous," he said. "There's also only about an inch and a half clearance between truck and bay (when it's inside)."
Because the bays are so small, "station capability is compromised," said Curran. Hazardous materials trucks, brush trucks and other specialty gear must be housed elsewhere even though it belongs in the center station.
Load-bearing walls are cracking, Curran said, and claims that the masonry of the building is sound are false.
The station has one shower and an inadequate sleeping quarters which doubles as a training room.
"The metal shower stall was installed prior to 1976, typically after (a fire) you hose off outside with a garden hose," Curran said. The firefighters take off their equipment and, "then they draw straws to see who gets in the shower first," said Curran.
Each 24-hour shift at the station has anywhere between nine and eleven firefighters, he said.
The firefighters' turnout gear is also compromised in the current station, Curran said.
"The gear is hung along the walls and the UV rays breaks down the material and reduces life expectancy (of it)," he said. "Each firefighter has two sets each. Sets cost about $2,000 and we’re not getting life expectancy. It needs to be kept in a cool, dry, dark space, not hanging on walls exposed to sunlight," he said.
Opportunities to ask questions and learn more about the fire station are as follows:
March 24: Center Fire Station open house from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
March 26: Board of Selectmen meeting at 7 p.m. with an updated fire station budget presentation
March 27: Officials will discuss possibly doing another open house or presentation.
March 29: Finance Committee meeting at 7:30 p.m. at the town offices.
Residents may also call the Curran's office at (978) 250-5265 to schedule a private appointment to learn more.