Matrix Fire Study: Fourth Station, Key Demand in Long-Awaited Fire Meeting

August 25, 2014
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After more than a year of waiting for a meeting with the City Council, Chelsea Fire union officials got their day last week in a meeting concerning the meatier portions of the Matrix Fire Study – and key within that meeting last week was the addition of a fourth station on Williams Street.

The Matrix Report was done more than two years ago and became public in April 2013. Some 70 percent of the recommendations that were considered to be “low hanging fruit” have already been implemented, but a meeting on the more serious matters of staffing, equipment and facilities never took place until last week.

Council President Matt Frank scheduled the meeting this summer as Fire Union leaders grew impatient and frustrated. Councillor Clifford Cunningham chaired the meeting at Frank’s request, and presided over a Council that mostly considered more expenditures for fire a hard sell.

Deputy Chief John Quatieri was the chief spokesperson for the union and said after the meeting that they were happy with the way the meeting went. He said the department relied upon bringing in an outside expert to analyze the Matrix suggestions and to look into staffing in the department.

That expert was Boston Dep. Chief Joe Fleming of Division 2 in that city.

In written comments to the Council and in his presentation, he said he had concluded that the Chelsea Fire Department is understaffed.

“The City of Chelsea has understaffed the Chelsea Fire Department compared to recommended national guidelines,” he wrote. “This has led to increased, and needless, risk to firefighters and the public they are sworn to protect.”

One of the main solutions proposed by the Fire Department, and a third alternative in the Matrix Report, was to build a new station near Everett Avenue.

Fleming said that was important because it is important to meet 4-minute response times due to the fact that a building fire turns to flashover in 3-7 minutes. Once flashover occurs, search and rescue operations must cease, meaning occupants or firefighters in the building would likely lose their lives. Currently, CFD responses to the southern part of the city are not hitting the 4-minute rule, Fleming said.

He suggested that even if a four-firefighter engine company could not be funded, perhaps a station with a three-firefighter company would be better than adding additional firefighters to already existing companies.

“Adding an EMS Squad manned by two CFD firefighters does not solve the EMS response problem into parts of Engine 2’s response area,” he wrote. “It would reduce Engine 2’s responses, however, if the city is willing to add a squad with 2 firefighters. Why not just add an Engine Company with three firefighters? This would resolve a multitude of issues identified in the Matrix Report…A 3 person ‘quick response’ is better than a 4 person ‘late response.’ Adding an extra engine company with three firefighters may be better than adding an additional firefighter to each current unit.”

City Manager Jay Ash said he is taking the discussion under consideration and looking at the City’s ability to finance such a change, but he added that estimates put a new station and engine company at $2 million a year.

“I’m reviewing everything that was discussed and suggested,” he said. “Most of the things they cited were best practices rather than a standard rule. We’re not in violation of anything. Also, any new station could come at a cost as high as $2 million a year – for both personnel and hard costs. I’m taking the proposal seriously, but first we have to identify the impacts.”

He said the last permanent fourth station in the City was closed in the 1990s under receivership.

A good many councillors hearing the presentation were skeptical to put it mildly. Many are hesitant to spend any more money on the department, and there is still a good deal of bad public relations between the union and the Council following a messy contract dispute last year – not to mention some pointed criticisms of the City in the wake of winning the All-American City Award.

Convincing the full Council, likely, could be harder even than winning over Ash.

As for the station, Quatieri said the area identified so far has been on Williams Street in the area of the old Top Gas site.

“The Old Top Gas site was mentioned as an ideal location where it is in the section of the city where we do not meet response time standards,” said Quatieri. ” It’s also vacant at the moment.”

City Councillor Giovanni Recupero said he could not support a station that was outside of his district – given that there are persistent dangerous, overcrowding situations throughout this district and frequent fires in overcrowded illegal rooming houses.

He said he wanted any station to be located on Marginal Street so that fire crews would be able to go up the one-way streets to the neighborhoods in his district.

“The Fire Union told us they really want a new station and they want it nice and easy on Williams Street,” he said. “I think they need to put any new station in my district on Marginal Street where about all the fires and incidents happen. There is vacant land for lease a very short distance from the Williams Street site they want. That way they could get to the southern part of the city that they’re talking about, and they could also get quickly up the one ways into my district. Admiral’s Hill and Everett Avenue would only be minutes from that site. If they want a new station, I think they need to look at that.”

Quatieri said they have considered that site on Marginal Street, but had overriding concerns.

“The Marginal Street site was talked about years ago but scrapped because of the close proximity to the Meridian Street Bridge, which would hamper responses when the bridge us up and traffic backs up,” he said. “Also, the fire department was concerned with using Hawthorne Street or Shurtleff Street as primary response routes with the Early Learning Center right there.”

Further meetings on the subject have not been set, but Cunningham is likely to request another at some point in the fall.

  • Doug02150

    It’s important to note that the “Highest Priority” recommendation
    of the Matrix Report is to properly implement a tiered response to EMS calls so that the fire department only responds when needed and not to all EMS calls; this is done in surrounding communities and most of the country and is discussed on pages 7 and 51 of the report. The current practice of sending fire units to all EMS calls is poor stewardship of expensive taxpayer funded resources and is not done in most other communities. Many EMS calls can easily be handled by the ambulance crew alone. Given that about 60% of fire department calls are for EMS, proper dispatching of the calls could reduce fire department calls to the point where another station is not needed. The report is pretty clear that the current fire station locations provide acceptable response times to 90% of calls based on national standards (page 48).

    Redevelopment of the city is actually reducing fire hazards as older combustible buildings are replaced by new fully sprinklered buildings constructed to modern fire safety codes. The new One North apartments are a great example of this as they were built where a
    wood frame factory once stood. The new FBI building will be constructed of noncombustible materials, fully sprinklered and built to modern codes also resulting in a relatively low fire hazard.

    The Chelsea Fire Department had more fire companies prior
    to bankruptcy and receivership, it’s important to remember that those
    pre-receivership levels of spending are what put the city into receivership. Given the dramatic increase in residential real estate taxes in recent years (mine are up 50% since 2010) the council should look very carefully at any spending increases and also consider what else $2 million dollars per year could buy; perhaps they could do some much needed road work.

  • Luther Plais

    Doug, although I respect your opinion, I completely disagree and have a
    question or two. Which types of calls will no longer get a fire truck?
    Which surrounding communities are doing this? Whats a minor ems call? Do
    you have that much faith in a contracted private ambulance company”s
    employees that most calls will be handled with ease? Will it sharply
    reduce the call volume? By how much? Do you have any data?
    As for
    emd, the alarm processing time according to the study is 3:20/ 90% of
    the time. That’s more than three times the recommended target time. I
    think its safe to conclude that there are flaws within that system and
    they should be addressed before its relied upon so heavily.
    With
    regards to the acceptable response times, what about the other 10%?
    Every citizen in Chelsea should get a fire truck within 4 minutes if
    needed, just like everybody else in the country. It probably takes
    longer than four minutes on average for the fire trucks to arrive at the
    Admirals Hill area.
    As you stated about the FBI building being a
    low fire hazard, that does not exclude it from the special risk
    category, and Chelsea already has many buildings that fit that category
    (pg 45 of the study). Make your own judgement on which risk categories
    the majority of the city falls into. Then refer to page 44 where the
    study explains effective response force and compare it to the daily
    staffing. Overuse and abuse of mutual aid is not the answer either.

    This is the real question. What kind of service does the community
    want/expect/require from their fire department? If the community
    requires increases in service, it needs to be looked at as an
    investment. Get all parties on board and make it happen smartly so not
    to further burden taxpayers. Even though you might never need that fire
    truck,someone else sure will.

  • ConcernedCitizen02150

    I’m an Admirals Hill resident and it frustrates me, let alone makes me feel unsafe, that they cannot come to an agreement. I do not understand why the councilor is only worried about his district and not ours. We have a multitude of apartment complexes/ Elderly housings and hotels , where the fire department is responding to almost IF NOT daily. Lets not forget the waterfront where there is GREAT potential for a water rescue. I would fear for a child to be in distress knowing the average response time is 6-7 minutes in my area, IF THERE IS EVEN A FIRE TRUCK AVAILABLE. Now with the Silver line and FBI building coming into the picture, I do not see how the city politicians will not just listen to the Fire Department, they know best about what is needed to protect their city . They work under stress 24/7, being too late to help someone in the city is life threatening to the citizens and only increases their stress and potentially causing health problems. Hasn’t there been a disturbing amount of firefighters that have died in the past few years in Chelsea due to stress related heart emergencies? I recall 5 children being killed in a fire in 1994 because the city shut down a fire station on Everett Ave and the response time was delayed. Could the city councilors and mayor live with that on their conscious like these brave men have to daily because the city will not support them? What is the citizens life in Chelsea really worth other than the pretty views of newly constructed buildings, parks, bridges and hotels? How can people appreciate them with that in this back of their mind; “DON’T GET HURT OR SICK, CHELSEA FIRE OR POLICE MIGHT NOT HAVE A UNIT AVAILABLE. DON’T LET YOUR HOUSE CATCH ON FIRE BECAUSE THE NEXT AVAILABLE FIRE DEPARTMENT MIGHT BE EVERETT OR REVERE.” Protect the citizens and support its public safety departments because without them our families, homes and the public are not safe! Please, listen before 1994 happens again!

  • ConcernedCitizen02150

    By adding those buildings they are putting a huge workload on the fire and police departments, more buildings = more residents to protect. They expect them to handle more residents and buildings with the same amount of units that were struggling to handle them all in the first place. Sprinklers fail, alarms still go off – Medical emergencies still happen.

  • Doug02150

    They types of calls that don’t need a fire truck are what EMS personnel call “Priority 3” or non-emergency calls. These include things like minor injuries, people with cold and flu symptoms, intoxicated individuals with no other medical issues to name a few. The idea that fire department response is not needed for these is not new it’s been in place in other communities for a decade or more with excellent results. In Boston less that half of EMS calls get a fire truck, Lynn and Cambridge regularly send their contracted private ambulances to these calls without FD assistance, if more help is needed it’s a radio call away. In most communities these priority 3 calls are about 25% of EMS calls and that is the reduction in fire department EMS responses that may be possible to achieve. The whole purpose of the tiered EMS response is to stop sending resources to calls where they are not needed so they are available for real emergencies.

    I agree with your comments about alarm processing, that needs to be corrected. An even more disturbing statistic is the “Turn Out” time of almost 3 minutes. This is completely unacceptable for a professional paid fire department and should be under 1 minute according to NFPA 1710.

    The fact that Chelsea meets the 4 minute response time 90% of the time is excellent, few communities in the country reach this level. I have lived at Admiral’s Hill for nearly 10 years and think the FD response is always prompt and very professional. The only thing I don’t understand is why they send so much equipment and manpower when the fire alarms activate. In most major cities one engine and one ladder truck are dispatched to residential, office and hotel buildings when alarms activate to investigate and reset the system. US Fire Administration statistics indicate that sending two fire companies is adequate for over 95% of these alarm activation calls; when more help is needed it’s a radio call away.

    I agree with your comments about staffing for special hazard locations. As the Matrix study and major fire service text books point out, it’s not economically feasible or responsible to staff for every possible situation. When there is a confirmed fire (not just an alarm activation) at one of these locations mutual aid should be sent immediately. This is not abuse of mutual aid, it is what the mutual aid system was designed for.

    Chelsea spends over $ 8 million dollars a year on fire protection and has a FD staff of almost 100 people, this is a huge commitment to public safety. Before spending any more established modern procedures that work very well in other communities need to be implemented here to assure these valuable resources are deployed wisely and efficiently and that the public is properly protected.

  • Luther Plais

    I can understand the rationality behind prioritizing calls in order to utilize resources. But I believe that needs to be balanced with the responsibilities to respond when called and provide assistance when possible. Lets face it, fire departments don’t call themselves. The reason that they are activated is because someone has called, probably 911, looking for help. Once that call is received,” the system” , in this case the city, has an obligation to respond and investigate the need for assistance and/or mitigation, no matter how minor in nature it sounds.This responsibility ultimately falls on the fire and police departments. Now when you add the whole emd thing. I would imagine that when the call comes in, even with emd,it still would be difficult to determine the real severity over the phone. A person who appears intoxicated to someone could actually suffer from diabetes and be having a problem with their blood sugar. You say, “help is only a radio call away.” But that doesn’t do the person any good. It is my opinion that you send the resource if available. Err on the side of caution and in the best interest of the public good. It is also very easy to say that resources were not needed afterwards with hindsight being 20/20.
    We may have to agree to disagree about what warrants a fire truck. I feel that the city should be represented in some form. I disagree with having a contract ambulance to do it independently in most cases. Nothing against Private ambulances But given your estimate of a %25 reduction in ems calls by not responding to certain


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