STONEHAM - Time changes just about everything.
And with Stoneham's Fire Station turning 100-years-old last year, town leaders acknowledge the clock for operating just a single station might be running short.
Just before the start of 2018, second-year Fire Chief Matthew Grafton, who since assuming the leadership role has consistently positioned the force towards modernization, advised the town's Board of Selectmen to begin planning now for an expected population shift that will likely render Stoneham's single-station model obsolete.
Armed with the findings of a fire station site study prepared by North Andover's Carlson Group, a firm that specializes in public safety infrastructure, the fire chief outlined how new assisted living facilities, a series of large-scale apartment buildings, and other developments around the edges of town will dramatically alter the needs of an already changing fire department landscape.
"We're in a 100-year-old building, and it's full. We're running out of space and we're kind of getting to the point where next time we buy a fire truck, there's not going to be a place to put it," he said. "We need to start discussing the future. We're looking at the growth in the southern part of town, and it's certainly an issue."
Presently, the Central Street Fire Station, which dates back to 1916, is situated adjacent to Town Hall right by Stoneham Square. Listed on the state's register of historic places, the building is so antiquated, it was first equipped with four stables to house the horses that pulled Stoneham's original fire carriages.
Those design features, though certainly exciting for history and architecture buffs, have proved problematic as the town's fire force finds itself increasingly cramped in outdated living quarters and has obtained modern-day engine and ladder trucks, which barely fit within the structure's bay doors.
It's a problem that Carlson Group representative Travis Miller runs across all the time in Massachusetts, especially within communities like Stoneham that date back to the country's Revolutionary War era.
"People are dealing with aging facilities in historically relevant [buildings] that often anchor downtowns. Then all of a sudden, things are starting to grow and change," said the Carlson Group consultant, who estimated he has worked on at least 300 fire station relocation and service system studies across the nation.
In fact, in neighboring Woburn and Burlington, municipal officials are similarly working to modernize their fire departments within the confines of antiquated buildings that are no longer capable of housing fire engines and ladder trucks.
Late last year, Burlington Fire Chief Steven Yetman, who like Grafton is eyeing sweeping changes to the firefighting industry, announced plans to award a multi-million dollar contract to build a new three-bay firehouse by Terrace Hall Avenue and the Middlesex Turnpike.
Like Stoneham, Burlington officials began eying the $8.7 million infrastructure project, which will replace a subhouse that dates back to 1971, in response to a dramatic wave of economic growth spurred by major developments.
Just over a week ago, during his state of the city address in City Hall, Woburn Mayor Scott Galvin also detailed plans to fund a feasibility study that will examine how best to address the fire department's aging infrastructure.
For a few years now, Galvin and other city officials have been arguing that the community needs to erect a new central headquarters in its South End by Winchester and relocate its firehouse in North Woburn, where the landscape is similarly being altered by dense housing and commercial developments.
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According to Miller, who examined response times to high-demand service call areas from Stoneham's headquarters, the historic building has long served Stoneham well, as it sits right by the community's economic hub and is surrounded by some the oldest and more-dense clusters of single-family neighborhoods.
However, as Stoneham has undergone its own transformation brought about by economic development and new growth, firefighters increasingly find themselves heading towards the outer fringes of the municipality.
"At some point, you will need a second station," forecasted Miller, who plotted all of the fire department's calls over a multi-year period on a map to identify high-demand service zones.
"We all accept [this fact] on a daily basis, but we don't like to hear about it. Not every piece of dirt and address in a community has the same impact on a fire service delivery system," added the Carlson Group official, who predicted some will question the methodology of placing a new station away from the vast majority of Stoneham's single-family neighborhoods.
Consulting Grafton about locations within Stoneham where town officials can reasonably expect to purchase land for a new station, Miller examined five preliminary options for a new fire station, including:
• The top ranked scenario (from a response time perspective), in which the Central Street headquarters would be closed and two new firehouses built, including one by the old Central Street middle school site by William Street and the second in south Stoneham by North Border Road.
• The second ranked option where the existing headquarters will remain and a new substation would be erected on the Fellsway East by the Melrose and Malden lines;
• The third best improvement that entails building a new substation on North Border Road and retaining possession of the Central Street headquarters;
• And the retention of the existing headquarters and the building of a new substation by Franklin Street and Stoneham High School.
All of those new stations would be situated close by some of the newest and largest developments within the community, many of which have not yet broken ground.
For example, towards the southern edge of town near the Winchester line, the long underutilized A.W. Chesterton parcel, an industrial property bordering I-93 near the old Hall Memorial Pool, has been converted into a self-storage facility and an apartment complex containing 300 dwelling units.
Heading eastbound from that site towards portions of Spot Pond near the Melrose, Medford and Malden lines, the old Boston Regional Medical Center (BRMC), a similarly long vacant commercial parcel amidst the Fells Reservation, is being transformed into another housing project containing 261 units. That redevelopment project also includes a major commercial component, a 225,000 square foot office park within the former hospital building campus, though it's unclear when that second phase of construction will begin.
Meanwhile, another more centrally located apartment complex, containing 264-units, is being proposed at Weiss Farm, an undeveloped 26-acres of land situated off of Franklin Street near Stoneham High School.
Towards the northern edge of Stoneham, a revival of the Redstone Shopping Plaza off of Route 28 near the Reading line, where several new restaurants have sprung up and a Target department store opened in July, has been accompanied by the addition of an Urgent Care facility on land that previously housed a gas station.
"If you [can't get] to your assisted living facilities and your apartments and schools and your bad intersections, but you do a great job of covering neighborhoods where nothing happens, you have a terrible system," said Miller.
"[For the top ranked option], you push staff up to the north and down to the south and let everybody run to the middle. That's why this turns out the best," he added. "You get access to both major highways and Main Street and Route 28. You're challenges are heading towards the east and west, which shouldn't be a surprise to anybody."
When first named chief back about two years ago, Grafton, who battled his first house fire alongside the man he succeeded - former Stoneham Fire Chief Joseph Rolli - became one of the younger chiefs in the region.
During the beginning of his tenure, he turned to a challenge that is facing communities everywhere: The retirement of a whole generation of grizzled veterans from the baby-boomer generation.
First hired in Stoneham as a rank-and-file firefighter back in 1999, Grafton has lamented seeing the town's old guard, most of whom mentored him when he first arrived at the Central Street fire station, move on to new endeavors.
But he has also excitedly taken on the task of hiring a new wave of fire recruits, who are charged with handling an expanding range of duties that range far beyond putting out structural fires.