Falmouth Fire Services Forum

Cathi Valeriani of Hatchville states her concerns during a forum held by Falmouth selectmen and the Falmouth Fire Rescue Department to discuss the future of fire services. The forum, held in the Falmouth High School auditorium Tuesday night, drew a crowd of about 200.

On November 3, 2011, less than two weeks after Robert Egan’s daughter Lily was born, she stopped breathing.

“Her mother heard her choking in her cradle,” Mr. Egan said. “By the time I ran in from the other room, she was turning blue. I started to do everything I could possibly do, and called 911. Mark my words, in less than a minute, two very skilled, brave people showed up at the West Falmouth Market and saved Lily’s life. They saved her life. We’re not making decisions based on you playing a game of checkers with the collective bargaining agreement, and I completely understand the pressures and challenges. We’re talking about people’s lives.”

The West Falmouth fire station is scheduled to close July 1.

Mr. Egan of Westmoreland Drive, West Falmouth, was one of many to speak out against the pending closure of the West Falmouth fire station at a community forum on the present and future of fire protection services on Tuesday, January 21.

Annie Hart Cool of Fire Tower Road, West Falmouth, said she was revived by a West Falmouth firefighter at 6 AM on October 22, 2019.

“I take a little bit of offense in being part of that gap,” Ms. Cool said. “I’m not feeling really great about losing that fire department or having an extended response time for those of us in that gap. I really believe we need to come up with a better solution for everybody in town.”

J. Malcolm Donald of Ambleside Drive, Falmouth, shared a similar story, noting his unconscious wife was revived by a West Falmouth firefighter.

“What we need is the fire house to stay open,” Mr. Donald said. “Here is my idea—have one fireman at the fire house, as it is now, and give him a Ford Explorer fully equipped with his medical gear.”

While Massachusetts regulations require two firefighters per ambulance, Mr. Donald said you don’t need two firefighters to drive a Ford Explorer.

Former state fire marshal Stephen D. Coan of West Falmouth Highway, West Falmouth, said the issue of inadequate staffing and facilities has long been a concern of this community. Closing the West Falmouth fire station will exacerbate those concerns, he said.

“This decision will clearly reduce the level of fire protection to that community,” Mr. Coan said.

In the fire protection business, he said minutes and seconds count. Closing the West Falmouth fire station affects not only those who live in West Falmouth, but first-responding firefighters who have to wait for backup from another station.

“I believe that this decision is based upon a higher authority dictating a budget number that forces the chief to manage a department that has never had adequate staff to meet the demands placed upon the department,” Mr. Coan said. “Falmouth responds to more than 8,000 calls per year, more than any other department on Cape Cod. While the recent collective bargaining agreement has been raised as one of the reasons that led to the station closing, the fact is, and please listen, is that no firefighter should have to bargain for their own safety and health.”

Noting that one-person fire apparatuses are very unsafe, he said Falmouth should have eliminated one-person fire stations “years ago.”

Fire Chief Michael F. Small said he agrees with everything Mr. Coan said. He said the proposed staffing model was the best he could do with the resources available to him.

“In order to have two [in West Falmouth], it will require subtracting two from one of these other places,” he said.

He said moving two firefighters from the Woods Hole or North Falmouth fire stations would put an ambulance and engine out of service, moving two firefighters from East Falmouth would leave two firefighters to cover the eastern half of the town, and moving two from headquarters would leave four firefighters to cover 50 percent of the calls in town. Five percent of calls originate in West Falmouth.

“If I had enough people to do that, I most assuredly would do so,” Chief Small said. “In my opinion, this is the best deployment for the 54 square miles of Falmouth on July 1 and going forward.”

Jay F. Austin of West Falmouth noted that if 5 percent of calls originate in West Falmouth, that means 400 calls come from that area of town.

“If you are one of the 400 having a serious problem, this is really important,” Mr. Austin said.

Chief Small said all emergency calls are important, and the department is working to do the most good with the resources available.

Michael B. McGrath of Cliffwood Lane, West Falmouth, said rather than close the West Falmouth fire station, the town should expand it.

“When I look at West Falmouth, it is appropriately sited,” Mr. McGrath said. “The building is too small. We need to add on to that station to fit a normal fire engine. Unfortunately, I have a saying, the only thing that increases faster than the size of the federal deficit is the size of fire engines and ambulances.”

He noted the town’s forefathers were wise, and cited these fire stations where people are. Those people should continue to be served by a local fire station., he said.

“To me, we need to represent the will of the people here, and I think the will of the people is to add to the West Falmouth fire station,” Mr. McGrath said.

Mr. McGrath is the president of Holmes and McGrath, Inc., and is not affiliated with the McGrath Consulting Group, the organization that conducted a feasibility study to identify potential locations for a new fire station.

Marc P. Finneran of Trotting Park Road, Teaticket, said he is bringing a petition article to April Town Meeting asking the selectmen to “ensure the West Falmouth Fire Station remains open and staffed until such time that a new station is constructed, open and staffed.”

“Closing the station is just not acceptable,” Mr. Finneran said.

Several residents spoke about the need for service in Hatchville.

“In the 1980s and 1990s, I worked with the fire department and then-selectman Virginia Valiela trying toget funding for a fire station in Hatchville,” said Kathleen E. Valeriani of Hatchville. “I’ve lived there for 40 years, and unfortunately, when the bottom fell out of the economy, there went the next fire station, but it was always an unspoken promise that a new fire station, the next one would be in Hatchville.”

She said the response time in Hatchville is nine to 12 minutes.

“I know this for sure because in 2015, my house caught fire in a lightning storm when we were not home,” Ms. Valeriani said. “The response time, according to the report, was nine minutes.”

She also supported the idea of a northwest fire station.

“We need every fire station open that we have, and we need a Hatchville station,” she said. “Everyone in this town deserves a response time of four minutes. That should be our goal.”

Matthew E. Handley of Thomas B. Landers Road, East Falmouth, owner of A&H Recon Shop in Falmouth, said the town needs to be more equitable in how it allocates its resources.

“Hatchville has been overlooked for way too long,” Mr. Handley said, suggesting the town build a fire station to serve North Falmouth, West Falmouth and Hatchville on a parcel of town-owned land on Thomas B. Landers Road.

Anne E. Connolly of Westmoreland Drive, West Falmouth, said she was at the April 2010 Town Meeting when Falmouth conducted a land transfer to acquire 7.69 acres of land abutting Thomas B. Landers Road.

“Part of the argument for allowing that, which Town Meeting does not like to do, was to get frontage on the road, so we could use the previously landlocked parcel,” Ms. Connolly said.

She also asked if those in attendance could get a commitment from the selectmen not to close the West Falmouth fire station on July 1.

Selectmen Chairwoman Megan E. English Braga said she could not make that commitment.

“The board of selectmen does not tell the chief and the town manager does not tell the chief how to staff his department,’ Ms. English Braga said.

Oliver Egleston of Katelyn Hills Drive, West Falmouth, asked what the response time to West Falmouth would be once the station is closed.

“Subsequently, without an answer, I and others have estimated travel times using Google Maps,” Mr. Egleston said. “My non-expert estimate is travel times from North Falmouth or headquarters to West Falmouth generally is more like six to 10 minutes rather than the current one to four minutes, and seconds and minutes count.”

“Certainly, we hear and we are concerned about that extended period of time for services to be deployed,” Ms. English Braga said.

Selectwoman Susan L. Moran said the most important municipal function is ensuring public safety.

“When we look at the increased response time, and speaking as a mother whose daughter had a heart attack at 30 years old, minutes count,” Ms. Moran said. “I think that we can do a better job of planning here. I think, certainly, the fire facilities need attention. We need attention to the staffing, we need attention to the safety of our firefighters and I don’t think there is any question that the citizens have woken everyone up and put a spotlight on this issue to really show that we’ve just really been lucky until now.”

Retired firefighter Todd A. Taylor of Willow Field Drive, North Falmouth, asked if the board of selectmen supported closing the West Falmouth fire station. Ms. Moran said she did not support closing the station until a new fire station is built and properly staffed.

Selectman Samuel H. Patterson said he was in favor of keeping the station open until adequate coverage could be provided from another facility. Selectman Douglas C. Brown said while he could accept the fire chief’s rationale, he supported keeping the fire station open using overtime shifts while working on a long-term solution.

Selectman Douglas H. Jones said his belief is to support the fire chief and his recommendation.

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