The future fire station committee believes that Falmouth needs to be served by at least five fire stations.
When asked if Falmouth could be served by fewer than five fire stations, Chief Michael F. Small said it could, but he did not agree with that service model.
“Can we do it with four? Sure,” Chief Small said at the meeting of the future fire station citizens advisory committee on March 5. “Can we do it with three? Sure. It depends on how long the community wants to wait. My opinion is that Falmouth is best served by five fire stations.”
He cited the McGrath Consulting Group’s report, which shows the ideal location for five fire stations based on the past three years of call data. The Woods Hole, East Falmouth and Main Street fire stations are in their ideal locations, while the North Falmouth fire station is close to its ideal location. The call data place a fifth station near Sandwich Road rather than in West Falmouth.
When asked if Falmouth would be better served by six fire stations, Chief Small said this was evaluated in 1989. It was determined a sixth station was not needed at that time.
“Six fire stations that are not properly staffed are useless,” he said. “The question is, do we want to have stations in the appropriate locations with a reasonable response time? Obviously, seven stations is better than six, but what is the community willing to pay for and what is the community willing to staff? I think, looking at this study, that this five-station model is probably where we need to be.”
Town Manager Julian M. Suso said the town’s capital plan reflects this, with the town likely replacing its oldest and least efficiently located station with a new station.
“There has not been an official vote, but the informal conclusion has been a five-station model, which is where we’re going right now,” Mr. Suso said. “We have one new station in our capital plan and it anticipates retiring one station from service.”
The committee agreed that at least five fire stations are needed, voting unanimously to remove a four-station model from consideration.
“You cannot get reasonable response times with four fire stations in town, and I am convinced of that, personally,” committee member Alden H. Cook said.
Committee co-chairman Michael Duffany noted five fire stations might not be enough, either. For now, Mr. Suso asked the committee to consider the location for the fifth station included within the town’s capital plan.
“Maybe your response is, perhaps over a certain period of time, we look at more than one station being replaced, but right now we just have one in the capital plan,” he said. “In terms of a single choice, it is either northwest or central, but maybe there is something in between that moves in both directions a little bit.”
Chief Small discussed the staffing necessary at these locations. He said North and West Falmouth are best served with a minimum of four firefighters, while a Hatchville station “could probably get by” with two firefighters, an engine and an ambulance.
Committee member Dan Mahoney said the group’s initial charge was to find a new location for a consolidated North and West Falmouth station. The charge has since been updated to find potential alternative locations for a new town fire station regardless of its location.
“West Falmouth is out,” Mr. Mahoney said. “It doesn’t match any of the ADA [requirements] or anything we need, and North Falmouth is geographically tight.”
Committee member George Rogers said the group needs more information before it selects a location. The committee requested information on available properties within a quarter-mile of Sandwich Road and Hatchville Road, as well as properties on North Falmouth Highway between Thomas B. Landers Road and the Silver Beach Rotary.
“I just want to look at both locations so we, as a committee, can say this is the one we need first, and this is the future,” Mr. Rogers said.
A map featured in the McGrath Consulting Group’s report shows Hatchville is a problem area. The estimated response time to Hatchville, based on speed limit data, can exceed eight minutes. This is indicated on the map in red.
“Ultimately, our main objective should be to get rid of that red,” committee member Marc P. Finneran said. “It is unacceptable.”
However, committee members were concerned that sticking with the five-station model simply shifts that red elsewhere on the map.
“If you take a station away and put another station farther away, I don’t think that is going to help response times,” committee member Todd A. Taylor said. “It might help in Hatchville and take some of the burden off East Falmouth, but you’re going to increase the response times somewhere else.”
Mr. Cook said the committee should not diminish coverage in one area to improve response times in another. The committee requested an additional map, one which shows how travel times would change if a Sandwich Road station is added and the West Falmouth station is closed.
“I don’t want to shift the red to somewhere else,” Mr. Rogers said. “I want to see it go away.”
Mr. Finneran said it will likely take two stations to accomplish that. Mr. Cook said the town should consider running six stations, at least temporarily.
“If we want to make this situation the best we can, realistically, we would, for some period of time, be operating six fire stations,” Mr. Cook said.
Mr. Suso said this would be a challenge.
“I get it, Alden, but where do you get the manpower?” he asked. “We’re struggling with five.”
He said regardless of what sites the committee recommends, there will be compromise. Regardless of where a new station is located, Mr. Suso said, it will be impossible to eliminate all the red from the map.
He said all potential locations, both publicly and privately owned, should be considered.
“My appeal is don’t rule any location out if they are appropriate, based on our actual data of runs,” Mr. Suso said.
Purchasing property is not off the table.
“We would certainly welcome any kind of arrangement where this could be done on existing town property or where someone does a trade, but when you look at the life-cycle cost of the cost of a fire station, the smallest investment is the purchase of the property,” Mr. Suso said. “The biggest mistake you can make is if it looks like you got a deal and you put it in the wrong place. You’re paying for that forever. Keep private property on your map, please, as well as public and other options, because we have one chance to put this in the right place, wherever that is.”
The committee also requested an improved heat map. One map in the report shows what locations the fire department responded to over the past three years. The map does not show how many times the fire department responded to each individual location. Committee members know some sites have drawn multiple responses from the fire department over the past three years, with members naming town beaches, the Sea Crest Beach Hotel and Emerson House as examples.
Mr. Finneran said seeking this information shows the committee is forward-thinking, and it might assist with the proposed override. The town is seeking a $971,507 override of Proposition 2½ to fund the hiring of eight additional firefighters.
“We need to come out with a plan and let the town know we’re headed in the right direction; otherwise, they might just vote it down,” he said.