Fire station pitched to council

By Susan Clark September 19. 2013 6:05PM

The town’s population has grown – from 9,481 residents in 1980 to about 21,200 today – and the number of fire and ambulance calls has risen along with it.

According to Fire Chief Scott Wiggin and Town Manager Jessie Levine, the town should seriously consider building a substation to cover the expanded call volume, particularly in the South River Road area. The town, Levine said, has been discussing a substation for about 23 years, including the idea of building a station in the west part of town.

Wiggin, Levine and Deputy Chief Mark Klose presented a detailed analysis for the need of a substation, costs and options to the Town Council at its Sept. 11 meeting. Levine is recommending the council pursue purchasing land, putting an ambulance in the 2014 budget, phasing in additional fire/EMS staff over two years, and asking voters to approve a bond and/or reappropriation of an infrastructure bond to pay for the new substation. If a substation is not built, the town would still need a third ambulance, eight more staffers and an overtime pay allowance. The existing station on Route 101 does not have the interior or exterior space to accommodate the need, Levine said, and would put a strain on the Police Department’s needs.

The cost of a building substation, and land and site development is estimated to cost $4.4 million. The town has about $2.98 million in a Town Council reserve account. Staffing for the Fire Department would cost about $895,000 per year, with building operating costs at $25,000 per year.

Bedford taxpayers currently pay 75 cents per $1,000 property valuation annually for fire and emergency services, including Fire Department budget items. The addition of a staffed substation is estimated to cost $1.35 per $1,000 property valuation, Levine said.

These amounts take into consideration the revenue the town receives from ambulance calls, which is roughly $700,000 to $800,000 per year, Wiggin said.

“As much as there is a demand for EMS, it is a revenue source, but it doesn’t cover the costs,” said Wiggin.

Levine compared Bedford with other towns with and without fully staffed substations. Bedford covers 32.8 square miles, with 29 full-time fire and EMS personnel, and had a total call volume of 2,198 in 2012.

In Goffstown, the land area is 37.1 square miles, with 16 staffers and total fire/EMS calls of 2,195. The cost for fire and EMS services to Goffstown taxpayers is $1.70 per $1,000 property valuation.

The substation would mainly cover the South River Road area, which has grown over the years because of senior housing, businesses and multi-family homes. Bedford’s population grew by about 3,000 people from 2000 to 2010, with 47 percent of that growth in the South River Road area, said Levine.

Townwide calls for ambulance services have increased 60 percent over the past nine years, from 660 in 1996, to 1,528 in 2012.

In 1980, there were 217 fire calls and 264 calls for emergency services, as compared to 620 fire calls and 1,376 EMS calls in 2010, townwide. From 2004 to 2012, ambulance calls to the South River Road area increased from 272 to 882.

Wiggin said the National Fire Protection Agency requires an ambulance arrival time within 5 minutes and fire response within 8 minutes. The town meets the standards for EMS response about 50 percent of the time and 85 percent of the time for fire, including time leaving the station.

“If we had a substation on South River Road, we assume we could more than cut our times in half for response,” said Levine.

A substation on South River Road frees up the main station staff to better serve the rest of the town, she said

Fire and EMS personnel take about 7.5 minutes to respond to Colby Court, which is 2.93 miles from the current Route 101 fire station; 8.5 minutes to arrive on Hawthorne Drive 3.4 miles away; and 9.5 minutes to get to Eastpoint Drive at 4.61 miles from the station.

The response time also takes into consideration traffic and road conditions.

“It takes basically 90 seconds from receiving the alarm, dispatching it, preparing yourself with apparatus, getting your gear on and getting the vehicle started,” said Wiggin.

The town council also saw a video of a fire in January at about 5 p.m. along South River Road. A police officer near the scene called 911, and response was immediate, Klose said.

“On our arrival, the fire was through the roof and went from south to north from one end to the other in a matter of 12 minutes,” Klose said. “With shorter response time, firefighters could have contained the fire in an interior attack at its starting point.”

Wiggin said time is vital as newer buildings are made with light-weight construction.

“With 8 to 10 minutes of fire impingement, you have potential building collapse and that’s either endangering the occupants in the building or the firefighters entering the building. These buildings burn much more intensely with all the plastics and synthetics in the furniture and materials,” Wiggin said. “Fires are burning hotter.”

He said insulation and thermal-paned windows with 6 inches of Styrofoam also play a role.

“It basically is creating a furnace in some of these buildings,” he said. “In older houses, windows would break out because of the heat.”

Mutual aid

At the meeting, time was spent discussing mutual aid agreements between Bedford and surrounding towns and the benefits of providing reciprocal coverage. A new agreement between Bedford and New Boston has been reached, which covers the northwest section of town and fulfills the required 5-minute response time, Wiggin said.

Bedford shares mutual aid with Amherst, Goffstown, Londonderry, Litchfield, Manchester, Merrimack, Milford and New Boston. The departments call on each other to cover fire and ambulance calls when needed. Bedford received 184 mutual aid services from January 2012 to Aug. 24, 2013, of which 125 were for ambulance services.

“A third ambulance would reduce EMS mutual aid currently received from Amherst, Goffstown, Merrimack, Manchester, Milford and New Boston, which could increase our EMS-related revenues,” Levine said, adding that she appreciates the mutual aid responses from surrounding towns.

Klose said Bedford cannot make any decisions relating to other departments’ operations, including coverage.

During a lightning storm last week, Bedford called up mutual aid for a two-plus alarm fire on Reed Drive in Bedford. A lightning bolt hit a backyard tree and traveled along underground wires setting the home ablaze. Manchester, Amherst, Merrimack and New Boston responded. It took about 30 minutes to control the fire.

“Lightning follows the roots and utility wires,” said Fire Chief Scott Wiggin. “The utility meters were outside the building, and the fire spread to the owners’ living space, into the garage and up through the attic.”

Pointing to a nearby pool, Wiggin said the neighbor was lucky the lightning did not follow that path.

At the scene, Wiggin said this is an example of the need for a substation along South River Road because of the response time and housing density in the area. If mutual aid was not available at the time, the outcome could have been much worse, he said.

The Town Council said it will continue discussion about the substation at its Sept. 25 meeting.

Public SafetyBedford

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