WILMINGTON — The Board of Selectmen will be prioritizing the construction of a police and fire substation in North Wilmington.
Following a unanimous vote at a board meeting on Aug. 7, Town Manager Jeffrey Hull will be researching financial and geographic considerations for the project. Deputy Chief William Cavanaugh of the fire department and Chief Joe Desmond of the police department were present to explain the need for the station.
National Fire Protection Association standards dictate that the first apparatus at the scene of an emergency call should arrive within four minutes of the call being received. According to Cavanaugh, recent tests done by the fire department showed that it takes a truck four minutes to make it to North Wilmington station from the public safety building. Anything north of that point is therefore not compliant with the standard.
Cavanaugh specified that it can take a vehicle anywhere from six to 11 minutes to arrive at the north end of Fiorenza Drive and Andover Street. It recently took a vehicle eight minutes to respond to Research Drive, off of Ballardvale Street.
“Eight minutes is… it’s unacceptable. You’re fighting uphill at that point, so it’s a difficult number to swallow,” said Cavanaugh, noting extremely time sensitive nature of both fires and medical emergencies.
Cavanaugh also stated that with the addition of eight new firefighters approved at last Town Meeting, and the new Engine 1 expected to be added to the fleet in March or April of 2020, the town will have both enough manpower and enough equipment to staff a substation.
In response to questions about logistics, Cavanaugh stated that the plan would be to move an engine and an ambulance to the new substation. The substation would likely be located on Andover Street to facilitate access to the far northern end of town.
Desmond added that even just having a bay for a cruiser and a place for a police officer to write a report would be of help to the police department. He also added that storage space is currently limited at the public safety building.
“Time flies by, but that station, it’s been 2001 since we built that, and obviously storage is an issue,” said Desmond.
Desmond added that the substation would provide the department with additional capacity for training.
Members of the board spoke overwhelmingly in favor of building the substation, and including both police and fire in the building.
Selectman Michael McCoy stated that the new substation should be “priority number one”. He also suggested that the town could build it without raising taxes.
“I think that we don’t have to raise a tax dollar in this community. I think we should just take that money from free cash, build a brand new fire substation slash police substation, in that area, and be done with it,” said McCoy.
(Hull cautioned against dipping into free cash hastily.)
Selectman Jomarie O’Mahony noted that response time issues affect both the fire and police departments, and that despite having referred to it as a “fire” substation in the past, it should include police, as well.
“We can’t expect the police department to be on constant patrol. It makes sense to have it be a safety building substation,” said O’Mahony.
Selectman Jonathan Eaton said that increasing population and increasing traffic have increased the workload for both police and fire. Dating back to 2004, Eaton stated that fire department runs have increased by over 63 percent, and ambulance runs have increased by just under 70 percent. He also stated that mutual aid has increased by almost 24 percent.
He also stated that, according to Town Crier archives, the Board of Selectman has been discussing the issue of trains blocking Route 62 at North Wilmington station since at least July of 1992.
“I think that this is a real problem, I think that it is something we should prioritize,” Eaton said.
“I just want to reiterate to the public that the hiring of the eight new firefighters and the staffing that we have at the police department will be sufficient enough to cover a substation without adding new personnel,” added Selectman Kevin Caira.