Fire chief to unveil plan for substation
Fire Chief Jim Bryer told the Press Wednesday he will present a plan to the Town Council within the next couple of weeks to build a new facility in the North End. His proposal will also include improvements to the existing fire station on Narragansett Avenue.
Bryer sent Town Administrator Bruce Keiser a letter dated May 10 to verify the Board of Fire Wardens had backed his plan. The board authorized Bryer to “conduct an analysis and feasibility study and report back to the Board of Fire Wardens on the possible construction of a fire station in the north end of town.”
The letter also said Bryer should look at the logistics of “remodeling ... the existing fire station on Narragansett Avenue and adjoining lot on 4 Grinnell St.”
The Board of Fire Wardens met May 9 and voted 18-0 to authorize Bryer to spearhead the project.
Bryer said he asked the board for a formal vote in response to comments made at a Town Council meeting. One of the councilors, he said, questioned whether he was doing this on his own or had the backing of the wardens. Bryer said he wanted to make it clear the project is coming from the board and he is not acting independently.
“There was confusion,” Bryer said. “This whole thing came about because we have to replace one of our engines.”
The Narragansett Avenue fire station, which was built in 1925, isn’t configured to accommodate today’s fire trucks. One choice would be to pay $700,000 for a custom fire engine that could fit inside the station. The other option, Bryer said, would be to “kill two birds with one stone” and buy an assembly-line truck for $300,000. The $400,000 savings could be used to fix the response time in the North End by locating a new facility there.
At their May 9 session, the councilors directed Keiser to ask the Fire Department for a facilities plan to include a new North End substation and modifications to the Narragansett Avenue fire station.
Council President Kristine Trocki said she was unclear about the plans for the substation. Councilor Blake Dickinson specifically requested a comprehensive plan that included all the options, including renovations on Narragansett Avenue and a possible expansion.
In his letter, Bryer said there is no plan at the moment, but he has been working on ideas. He has much of the plan already done, he said, and is not far away from being able to give the councilors several options. They will make the final decision.
Bryer referred to the proposed facility as the North End “barn,” rather than a substation. That’s because he’s envisioning strictly a place to park equipment. The plan would be to build three stalls – “Maybe two bays wide” – for the new truck, a water tanker and possibly one of the rescue boats. The barn could probably be located on town-owned land, he said. He is eyeing two parcels.
According to Bryer, currently the Fire Department has two trucks at the fire station and must “jam” them in. Three or four still have to be parked outside all winter.
“Another reason for this discussion was the amount of specialized equipment we must store outside because we have no storage space,” Bryer said.
The equipment includes a marine rescue boat, a bucket truck and an “air supply and special rescue squad.”
If he can move some of the apparatus to the North End, Bryer said he could bring a rescue from the EMS barn to Narragansett Avenue. Then an expansion would be possible to the Grinnell Street building. He said the EMTs have to be at work for 24-hour shifts and they need accommodations.
Bryer originally requested $400,000 to $500,000 in the capital budget for station improvements, but Keiser cut the funding out of the budget. Councilor Mary Meagher proposed putting $15,000 back into the department’s capital budget to pay for preliminary engineering. That $15,000 is the only money being allowed for the facilities this year.
Bryer said he wants to move forward with the plan “so people in town know the reasons behind it.”
Asked about the Town Council’s position now, Dickinson said in an email message the councilors have complete confidence in Bryer.
“I am pleased where things stand on this issue right now,” Dickinson said. “We have full confidence in the fire chief and strongly encourage movement of this plan forward so that we can act sooner and accordingly.”
Once they see the plan, Dickinson said, the councilors can suggest grant opportunities that may pay for some of the construction costs. Also, he said, the council has to provide oversight.
Dickinson said when the Town Council offered capital expenditure commitments to the Fire Department during its first budget workshop, it was based tentatively on informal discussions with Bryer regarding the department’s long-term plan to consolidate facilities with EMS.
“On behalf of the Town Council I requested that the chief provide a plan so that we can both evaluate and allow the town to be creative in seeing these goals to fruition,” said Dickinson.
Dickinson agreed a North End building would relieve the space crunch on Narragansett Avenue and give the department an option to move medical equipment to the main station. The EMS barn on Knowles Court might ultimately be sold, Dickinson said, and the Fire Department would probably gain by taking over the Grinnell Street building and expanding.
“This would allow more standardized garage bays be constructed for pumper trucks and rescue vehicles,” said Dickinson. “Again, this is my understanding of what might happen.”
However, Dickinson said, without a comprehensive plan, he was not certain that everybody agreed. Therefore, the councilors have indicated they will not release any funds until they see a plan.