Haverhill Fire Chief Calls Some Stations ‘Deplorable;’ Council Asks for Workshop with Mayor

Haverhill Fire Chief William F. Laliberty before city councilors Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019. (WHAV News file photograph.)

Haverhill councilors want an assessment of all of the city’s fire stations and a plan to repair or replace them.

Members last night asked for a rare workshop-style conference with Mayor James J. Fiorentini next week after hearing testimony from the fire chief about “crisis management” he faces at most fire stations. Chief William F. Laliberty backed recent complaints of union members, saying he didn’t receive an estimated $125,000 he requested to study what stations should be repaired or replaced.

“Our unmanned stations are in deplorable condition, even worse than the living quarters that we have,” he said.

Council Vice President Thomas J. Sullivan said he toured the Water Street station recently. He said problems go beyond roof leaks and ceiling repairs, including poor mattresses and furniture that he called “shocking.”

“I don’t know how the men live there. I don’t know how they work there. In a nutshell, it’s unacceptable and I’m not blaming you. The person (Fiorentini) who is to blame is not here tonight and it’s not his blame alone, but it does come from the administration and a lack of maintenance of facilities over the years,” he said.

Sullivan also remarked even more work will be necessary when Haverhill hires female firefighters. Councilor Melinda E. Barrett said she observed windows being closed with kitchen utensils. Councilor William J. Macek added that if a private property were in such poor shape as the fire stations, the city would condemn it as not being habitable. He was the first to ask for a conference with the mayor.

Laliberty said a few weeks after he sent a letter to the mayor reporting roof leaks had been repaired, leaks reappeared with what he called the “bombogenesis” storm of Oct. 16. He said the city is in “desperate” need of a citywide maintenance department. The chief said he has 33 repair tickets into the joint city-school maintenance department, but some have been closed because the department can’t help.

Responding to a question from Councilor Mary Ellen Daly O’Brien, Laliberty said the city’s oldest fire stations—High Street and 16th Avenue date back to 1888-1889. Ayers Village was built in 1910, followed by Water Street in 1927, Bradford in 1958 and Rocks Village in 1970. (Note: Firefighters have added a website, showing building issues, at paintoverthemold.haverhillfire.org.)

Councilor Joseph J. Bevilacqua said he has long favored building a new downtown fire station, inviting developers in to redevelop the existing Water Street fire station and seeing if federal Community Development Block Grant money allocated annually can be used in the meantime.

Councilors voted unanimously to request the workshop with Fiorentini next Wednesday or Thursday.

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