By Dakota Antelman, Managing Editor
MARLBOROUGH – Marlborough officials presented information and heard residents’ concerns at a public listening session on the proposed West Side fire station July 20.
Just under three months after a previous listening session in late April, this meeting saw Mayor Arthur Vigeant and Fire Chief Kevin Breen reiterate the city’s rationale for proposing a station at the intersection of Bigelow Street and Elm Street.
“When you look historically at the City of Marlborough and the locations of the three [existing] stations, if we had to do it all over again, probably no one in their right mind would locate all three stations where they are,” Breen said. “It’s just not appropriate given 2021, looking at our population centers and where the demands for service are.”
Fire Chief, Mayor discuss need for new station
Both Breen and Vigeant noted major commercial and residential growth in Marlborough’s West Side over recent years. This part of the city is currently served by the Pleasant Street fire station. However, that facility is “problematic” and poorly located relative to the emergencies its firefighters respond to, Breen said.
Response times to swaths of the West Side fall outside a four-minute benchmark recommended by fire experts, Breen said.
“We want to make sure we’re able to get everywhere we need to get, not just for fires, but for [other] emergencies,” Vigeant noted at a different point in the meeting.
Just 30 percent of his department’s calls involve fires, according to Breen. As the remaining majority of calls pertain to medical incidents like heart attacks, Breen emphasized the need for rapid response.
“Every minute that you go without oxygen or intervention, you have the risk of having permanent irreversible damage,” he said.
For City Councilor Christian Dumais, who also participated in the listening session, this response time discussion was especially personal.
He told meeting attendees that his family saw property they own recently burn.
“As fast as that fire station came, it did not come fast enough,” Dumais said. “[The property is] a total loss.”
Community members ask for more data
Through this conversation, community members asked a number of questions of Vigeant, Breen and Dumais.
Brian DuPont pushed for more granular information on the locations of emergency calls, questioning mapping in Breen’s presentation that visualized fire station coverage areas with as-the-crow-flies circles based on estimated response times.
“Let’s have a better conversation, a more informed conversation about where people live and where the calls actually are,” he said.
As city officials have recently zeroed in on the intersection of Elm Street and Bigelow Street, DuPont also recalled earlier discussions of a possible fire station at the nearby intersection of Elm Street and Locke Street.
“It seems to me that the Elm and Locke Street intersection is a better location,” he said, noting an existing traffic light, among other things, at that location.
Vigeant responded, noting that the Elm Street and Bigelow Street site had been chosen by the city’s committee of fire professionals, who also considered available property among other factors.
Abutters concerned about noise, light, traffic
Other concerns came from residents like Jeanne Douglass.
Douglass, who also spoke at the aforementioned April listening session, discussed possible noise and light pollution as well as increased traffic.
“We have really tight knit, good neighbors and it’s not going to be as safe for us traffic-wise,” she said. “…It’s just going to change the whole character of our whole community.”
Addressing her noise and light pollution concerns, Vigeant emphasized that fire personnel do not respond to every call with lights and sirens blaring on their apparatuses.
Breen noted comments to news outlets emphasizing his department’s commitment to being “good neighbors” to all community members.
Fire station discussion, planning to continue
The city has already purchased part of the land it would need to build a new fire station at the intersection of Elm Street and Bigelow Street.
In May, the City Council also gave Vigeant the go-ahead to negotiate and “acquire” additional property for the fire station project.
A final decision and vote, however, has not been made regarding the West Side fire station.