After analyzing three years of call data, the McGrath Consulting Group presented a summary of its fire station location study to the Falmouth Board of Selectmen on Monday night, February 10.
The study showed the ideal placement of stations based on the current call volume and origin of calls. Three of Falmouth’s fire stations, those in Woods Hole, East Falmouth and the Main Street headquarters, are in ideal locations. The North Falmouth fire station is close to its ideal location.
The fifth ideal location is not near the existing West Falmouth fire station, but on Sandwich Road.
“Interesting to note here is that we’ve got one just above the headquarters and East Falmouth area,” said Donald Markowski, senior consultant with McGrath Consulting Group. “The reason why that is—they are simply getting some of that call volume and relieving it from those two stations, which are running about 80 percent of those calls. It is also moving a station farther north, so it can get a quicker response to that northeast area.”
He said if the town were starting now, it would likely build five fire stations in these optimal locations. The town is not starting now, but looking to add a new station to fill existing gaps.
“I can assure you the 100-plus-page study does not have an ‘X marks the spot,’” Town Manager Julian M. Suso said. “There are pros and cons, depending on preferences, response times and areas of coverage.”
The McGrath Consulting Group study will be posted online and made available to the newly appointed fire station siting committee.
The study includes a map showing estimated response times based on speed limits. The map does not factor in traffic or seasonal activity. The map shows that the Hatchville area is a problem area.
“You actually have a good distribution through your previous fire stations,” Mr. Markowski said. “You can see that all pretty well throughout the community, with the exception of the northeast corner.”
Based on the speed limit, estimated response times in Hatchville can exceed eight minutes. Mr. Markowski said this area of town is not as populated and accounts for 4 percent of calls to the fire department.
The ideal station map shows a fire station on Sandwich Road would reduce response times in that area. Tim McGrath, CEO of McGrath Consulting, said the standard is four minutes.
“Years ago, going back to when I had to hook up the horses, it took some time for things to burn,” Mr. McGrath said. “Construction was different. But today, because of the toxicity of the products that are in there, they not only burn faster, but they burn a lot more toxic.”
He said that 90 percent of the time the department should be able to respond to a call within four minutes. Looking at North and West Falmouth, Mr. Markowski said, an optimal location for a fire station in North Falmouth is southwest of the existing station. This would allow firefighters to respond to 47 percent of calls in that area within four minutes. An alternate location, placed southwest of the existing North Falmouth station, would allow firefighters to respond to 68 percent of calls within six minutes, but reduces the four-minute time rate to 37 percent.
“That really comes down to the fact that there are some locations up there, in the North Falmouth area, where there are a lot of repeated calls,” Mr. Markowski said.
Residents in attendance asked if the study showed what response times would look like if the West Falmouth fire station was closed.
“There was nothing in the report that focused on the elimination of West Falmouth,” Mr. Markowski said.
However, he said, the software could be used to create a map showing a four-station model without the West Falmouth fire station. He said McGrath Consulting Group is willing to work with Falmouth town staff on such requests.
McGrath Consulting Group also created maps showing the origins of the calls to the Falmouth Fire Rescue Department with blue dots.
“If you close that West Falmouth fire station, I want you to take a very close, moral look at the blue dots that surround the West Falmouth fire station,” said Joseph A. Netto of Clark Street, East Falmouth. “As it is planned right now, that disappears July 1. You have a problem.”
Selectmen Chairwoman Megan E. English Braga said contract changes create challenges with the continued operation of the West Falmouth fire station.
“However, at the public hearing, we also talked about things the town is continuing to explore to address that, so this idea that it is signed, sealed, and delivered, that the door is locking and nobody is going to be in West Falmouth ever again after July 1 is not an accurate statement,” Ms. English Braga said.
Options presented at the January forum included staffing the West Falmouth station with two voluntary, 24-hour overtime shifts every day, contracting with a private ambulance service, and applying for funds from the staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant program.
“We understand the gaps in the coverage that we have right now, even with West Falmouth open,” Ms. English Braga said.