Massachusetts Fire Station to Close Despite Concerns

Posted: 09-24-2008
Updated: 09-25-2008 09:40:31 AM

TELEGRAM & GAZETTE (Massachusetts)

The city administration has given a thumbs-down to a compromise proposal to keep a ladder truck at the Providence Street fire station as a way of maintaining a Fire Department presence in the Union Hill-Vernon Hill-Grafton Hill areas.

City Manager Michael V. O'Brien has informed the City Council he intends to proceed with plans to close the Providence Street fire station and relocate the engine and ladder companies housed there.

Fire Chief Gerard A. Dio has recommended moving Ladder 5 out of Providence Street to the McKeon Road fire station, and moving Engine 12 to the new Franklin Street station, which is expected to open next month.

Relocating the firetrucks will enable Worcester Emergency Medical Services, the ambulance service owned and operated by UMass Memorial Health Care, to take up tenancy at the Providence Street station and provide ambulance service from there.

Neighborhood residents are strongly opposed to closing the 109-year-old station, contending that it could increase response times to fires in their area.

But fire officials have said coverage will not be compromised by the changes and that the neighborhoods will remain safe. They said response times to the neighborhoods served by the Providence Street station should remain the same, within four minutes to most areas, and in some instances even improved.

Last month, the City Council Public Safety Committee held a public hearing on the plan, and more than 80 neighborhood residents turned out to express opposition.

As a compromise to the Providence Street station's closing, the three-member Public Safety Committee asked if at least Ladder 5 could be kept there. By doing that, members said, Worcester EMS would still be able to house one ambulance at the station.

Mr. O'Brien said Chief Dio and his command staff reviewed and evaluated the proposal and said citywide fire protection would be best served by proceeding with the original plan.

"The chief's research demonstrates that relocating Ladder 5 to McKeon Road improved ladder coverage and fire protection citywide," Mr. O'Brien wrote. "I support the chief's recommendation to proceed with relocation of both Engine 6 and Ladder 5, and for UMass EMS to locate ambulance service at Providence Street."

The manager said the Franklin Street station construction is nearing completion. He said Chief Dio will transfer some apparatus to Franklin Street in mid-October, at which time the city will host a formal dedication ceremony.

He said the transition of all apparatus will be completed around Jan. 1. Worcester EMS will take up tenancy at the Providence Street station after the transition of the last piece of equipment from that location to Franklin Street.

One of the biggest concerns of neighborhood residents about the relocation of Ladder 5 to the McKeon Road station is that train traffic on the Providence & Worcester rail line could delay the response of the ladder truck to the Vernon Hill area.

But Chief Dio said while it appears on the surface that the compromise broached by the Public Safety Committee is a workable one, analysis shows that ladder coverage for the entire city would in fact be improved by having Ladder 5 at McKeon Road.

"Train tracks are located throughout the city and are one of the numerous risk factors the department has been dealing with for a long time," the chief said. "It is among the reasons that the department dispatches from different locations, in order to ensure that a fire apparatus will make it to any fire scene regardless of the situations encountered.

He said, "I cannot recommend the acceptance of the proposed compromise, as I am charged with providing the best overall fire protection to the city of Worcester with the resources I am given, and, therefore, I stand by my original recommendation."