Achieving Equal Fire Protection for All of Greenwich

The following was submitted by Greenwich Fire Chief Siecienski, Assistant Chief Kick and the First Selectman to the BET to support the 2015-16 budget for equal fire protection to all Greenwich residents:   

In 1996, Fire Chief Noel Padden wrote:

“The public does not understand why a fire truck has arrived but personnel cannot immediately mitigate the situation. When the emergency demands require immediate action on the part of our firefighters to deal with a potentially life threatening situation and sufficient manpower is not on scene, we place the on-scene firefighters in a very difficult position. The firefighters have two basic choices: they can be publicly ridiculed for not immediately taking actions required to correct a life threatening situation, or they can take immediate action with insufficient manpower and increase the risk for the public along with themselves. In most cases, we know what action the firefighters will take. They will act. Given the Town’s knowledge of what the firefighters will do,it is the responsibility of the Town to provide adequate manpower for the safety of the general public and fire department personnel.”

This statement unfortunately still applies two decades later.

The Greenwich Fire Department has a long history of dedicated service to the Greenwich community. Our combination department, made up of volunteer and career firefighters, works hard to respond to myriad incidents. They always go the extra mile to mitigate dangerous situations and protect our citizens’ lives and property, often risking their own well-being to do so. It is no surprise that the Fire Department received the highest ranking in the Town’s recently completed citizen satisfaction survey.

Eleven years ago, the Town recognized the long-identified need for Northwest Greenwich fire protection. First Selectman Lash, the Board of Estimate and Taxation, and the Representative Town Meeting approved the purchase of the property at 1327 King Street to build and staff a new fire station. This action by the Town began the process of addressing the gap in fire coverage identified through several Town- commissioned studies of our fire services.

Since 2000, the Town has proceeded with a plan to refurbish or replace our existing fire stations. In that year, the Town added the North Street Fire Station to reduce the response time to the Northeast quadrant of Town. This station is staffed by four career firefighters. The Town then proceeded with renovations and upgrades to the Cos Cob and Glenville Stations. The next phase of this plan was to rebuild the Central Fire Station as part of the Greenwich Public Safety Complex. This project is now underway and will be completed by 2017. The remaining two stations (Sound Beach and Byram) are scheduled to be renovated in the next 5 years.

The addition of a Northwest station will require additional staffing to meet the response needs of that area of Town. This staffing requirement is, in part, driving the inaction of BET members to move to the next phase of design and construction for the Northwest Fire Station. The BET also expressed a desire to identify an alternative site that is more geographically desirable. Significant attention was paid to this request, but further investigation has shown that we have only one viable alternative location on King Street for consideration.

During the 2012-2013 budget deliberations, Town officials, BET members, and the Fire Administration worked together through nights and weekends to achieve interim solutions for Northwest Greenwich fire coverage. The result was a 12-month experiment to increase staffing at Glenville Station by two firefighters per shift. By all accounts, this study met all objectives and remains in effect today while property acquisition is negotiated for a new Northwest station.

Finally, members of the BET have said that before we build and staff a Northwest Fire Station, we should address the equalization of staffing among our existing stations. Today, that same desire to address the noted areas of weakness in fire protection in the downtown stations is lacking.

The Central, North Street, and Glenville districts have the necessary career staff coverage, while the Cos Cob, Byram, and Old Greenwich districts do not.

The proposed 2015-2016 budget would begin to alleviate that disparate coverage through the equalization of fire services throughout Town. While the volunteer contingent is a vital asset to our distinguished combination department, it is a variable resource as volunteers are not always available to respond to incidents in a timely fashion. Multiple volunteer district chiefs testified to this in front of the BET during the 2014 budget deliberations, and that fact has not changed. There are many variables on the incident scene that responders must deal with; the certainty of a minimum number of responding firefighters should not be one of them. The BET has the ability to eliminate this deficiency by funding the First Selectman’s recommended budget.

We have presented a prudent and reasonable budget which would provide for the additional firefighters needed at the Sound Beach and Byram Fire Stations. This initiative would provide the Town with an opportunity to verify the effectiveness of the added staffing over a 12-month period with an eye to the equalization of fire protection across the entire Town.

For decades, the Town has been studying ways to improve efficiency and fill the gaps in life safety services while minimizing the impact to taxpayers. There have been countless analyses, plans and presentations. The time to act is now. The lives of our constituents and volunteer and career firefighters should never be variables in addressing our public safety needs. It is time to follow through on what the Town set out to do at the start of the millennium.

Please attend the Board of Estimate and Taxation Public Hearing on the 2015-2016 budget, Tuesday, March 17 at 7:00pm in the Town Hall Meeting Room, and voice support for this plan to protect the lives and property of all Greenwich residents.

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