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Playing with fire?
Chief dusting off old plan to consolidate fire stations

06/09/16
By Ryan Lessard news@hippopress.com



 Manchester Fire Chief Dan Goonan wants to breathe new life into a plan that would involve closing two fire stations and opening a third in a new location that splits the distance. But that would mean removing the only fire station in Ward 9 in a city that traditionally has had one station in almost each ward.

 
Possible pushback
The plan was first floated about two years ago by then-chief James Burkush, according to Alderman Barbara Shaw of Ward 9. 
“I was shocked when I [first] heard they were planning on moving Engine 9, because it’s been there forever,” Shaw said. “I was very concerned about the residents and about the response time for the residents in my area who have always had the station close by.”
But the plan seemed to be put on the back burner and hadn’t been discussed again until now. Goonan said in a phone interview that he is working with Mayor Ted Gatsas on the project, and they’re eyeing a plot of land on Goffs Falls Road, which connects Brown Avenue to South Willow Street. That would be in Ward 8, where the second station Goonan wants to close, Station 3, is also situated. 
Shaw is keeping an open mind, saying she won’t make a final decision until she sees the plan in detail. But if she opposes it she’ll find herself at odds with the son of an old friend.
“I’ve known [Goonan] since he was a little boy,” Shaw said.
Back in the 1960s, her then-husband David Shaw was a Manchester police officer who served with Dan Goonan Sr., Goonan’s father. And Shaw helped start the Policemen’s Wives Association of Manchester along with Goonan’s mother, Judy.
“[Barbara] used to babysit me,” Goonan said.
Shaw says Burkush was always transparent with her about his plans in the past and expects Goonan to operate similarly.
“He’s on the right track to make some changes and do things that will be for the benefit of the city,” Shaw said.
For his part, Goonan expects some pushback.
“Historically, these stations were built in the city’s wards,” Goonan said. “The aldermen … they like those stations in their wards.”
The goals
One reason Goonan wants to consolidate and relocate the stations is the state of disrepair at Station 9 on Calef Road in Ward 9, in particular. 
“We’re kind of treading water over there. We’re fixing something that is probably not in the right spot,” Goonan said.
The main reason, however, is to improve the department’s response times in the southern sliver of the city near Londonderry and Litchfield, which he says are longer than they should be.
“It’s difficult for us to make our times down on the extreme south end,” Goonan said.
A perk from such a consolidation would be the ability to reallocate an already spread-thin staff. But the details of the plan have yet to be hashed out. While some like Shaw suspect Gatsas may want to use the station closings as an opportunity to cut staff, Gatsas said in a phone interview that that is not the case.
“I am not in support of a reduction in staff,” Gatsas said.
 
In context
While a station per ward has been the tradition, it was not based on any sort of requirement, according to MFD historian Scott Pearson.
“The operation of a fire department really has nothing to do with ward boundaries,” Pearson said.
Locating fire stations had always been about geography, population densities and available space. It just so happened that there was about one per ward.
But battles over closing a station or moving one out of a ward are to be expected, he said.
“Anytime you have … a discussion about closing a firehouse, the alderman in that ward is not going to be thrilled about it,” Pearson said.
In Nashua, the fire department similarly has one station per ward, by happenstance, and it is working on plans to install a new southwestern station.
Concord’s fire department, which has four stations among its 10 wards, doesn’t foresee any need to change its stations any time in the near future. Concord will be starting an in-depth study of department needs in 2021. 





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