Outside Study of Haverhill Fire Department Largely Backs Firefighters’ List of Concerns

Haverhill Fire Department response time map by Washington-based Center for Public Safety Management.

A 168-page study largely backs Haverhill firefighters’ calls for better stations, including a new Broadway-area station; added staffing; a slow-down approach to using civilian dispatchers; newer trucks; and faster response times, especially to outlying areas.

Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini, responding to city councilors’ push last week for release of the study, said there are no “significant” differences between a draft by the Washington-based Center for Public Safety Management and the one he gave city councilors late Monday afternoon.

“It makes some very long-term suggestions for additional firefighters, recommendations which we (will) take a great deal more study and planning to implement. We are working on a summary of the costs of full implementation of the report,” the mayor said in his own summary.

“I’d still like to see the original draft. We put out a Freedom of Information Act request for those. I believe the city asked to have stuff removed that might have further drove out the needs we requested,” Haverhill Firefighters Local 1011 President Tim Carroll said.

Fiorentini said he would freely give Carroll a copy of the study. “We look forward to working with the union and the fire chief as we analyze this in more detail. Our next step is to get a cost analysis of what these various things will cost us. Just like with anything else that we do like, like the Consentino School project and police, we always have to consider tradeoffs in the budget—what we can do and what we can’t.”

He said the study shows a rating by the Insurance Services Office of Haverhill’s ability to provide fire protection. “We’ve gotten safer over the years and we are in the top 25% of all communities. There’s absolutely no reason for panic or alarm,” he said.

Recommendations, staged at short-, medium- and long-terms, use delicate language such as “if practical” even where deeper analysis elsewhere in the study demonstrate a lack of feasibility. The report recommends, for example, the rescue company move from Water Street to the High Street Station “if practical,” but acknowledges “The fire chief discussed space issues at High Street that likely prevent this alternative; as well there is little footprint to work with for expansion.” The recommendation then goes on to suggest, the city consider “constructing a new facility at Broadway and I-495 to include the Ayers Village call-unit and crew.” Unlike other areas of the study, it does not specify a time frame for this transition.

In response, the mayor said, he has asked for the state to donate land it owns near the highway. “Even if we do get the land, our estimate is that building a new station will cost between $15 and $20 million. This is not something that is doable in the short term for the city. We would have to spend some time in determining if this is needed and we would have to plan for it over several years.”

As WHAV reported first last week, Councilors Catherine P. Rogers, Melinda E. Barrett and Thomas J. Sullivan pushed for the study’s release. They all welcomed the review.

Rogers told WHAV, “There are things we have to work on. We’ll figure out what we need to work on first and see what we have the money for. We’ll pick one thing at a time.” Barrett called some things, such as a new fire station, “kind of obvious.” “We do need a new facility. High Street isn’t expandable.”

Sullivan said he’s holding firm to hearing directly from consultants. Such a meeting was planned for next week, but is now likely to take place Tuesday, March. 7

In terms of staffing, the report recommends in the near term—one to three years—assigning one additional firefighter per shift at the High Street Station at a cost of about $450,372; hiring an assistant fire chief position at about $144,657 to indirectly address Fire Prevention Division staffing; and a civilian life-safety public education specialist to reach out to older and vulnerable residents, especially those living in multistory buildings. Carroll said increased High Street staffing was generally accomplished with last summer’s budget compromise.

Within the mid-term, the study suggests adding training officer at the lieutenant level; and assigning one additional firefighter per shift to Water Street at an estimated cost of $450,372. Over the long-term, five to eight years, the study recommends an additional ladder company at Bradford for that side of the city and downtown, “where the majority of multilevel structures are located.”

Authors note the Haverhill Fire Department does not meet the national Effective Response Force standard for a single-family home, open-air strip shopping center, apartment or high-rise building by itself. The city can meet the standard by adding a fourth engine and timely mutual aid response.

The report notes “current long call processing times” in dispatch and points to advantages of firefighters handling calls instead of civilians and known problems with civilian turnover nationally. Should the transition take place, it suggests, the department’s overall uniform firefighter count not be reduced.

Authors of the study add apparatus should not exceed 15 years of service on the front line unless fully refurbished to “new make and model designation,” trucks at the 25-year mark should be considered for replacement and older ones removed from service. It notes one engine and one water tanker beyond the maximum age.

The report also suggests approaches to serving Bradford once the PFC Ralph T. Basiliere Bridge closes for replacement. It said Ladder 4 is not in service due to staffing, but could be used temporarily during the construction of the bridge. It also recommends the city and private ambulance service establish a temporary site in the Bradford area capable of housing one ambulance crew.

Union representatives received backing on their long-stated concerns about longer than acceptable response times near Ayer’s and Rocks Villages. The study notes a general dispatch time of 4.6 minutes and turnout time of 3.8 minutes does not meet national standards. Included maps show some outlying areas are not generally reachable in less than six to eight minutes.

The report also makes recommendations for improving mutual aid response from nearby communities and buying a fire boat capable of firefighting and water rescue capabilities and keeping it behind the Water Street Station for immediate response.

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