Letter to the Editor: New Fire Station Planning Needs to Consider a Substation

~Submitted by Don Corey

The need for a fire substation east of the Route 3 corridor has been on the table for years.  When I was a Selectman decades ago, we hired the former State Fire Marshall, Robert Ulm, as the new Chief.  He was extremely knowledgeable regarding fire safety. Development on Middlesex Turnpike was underway then, and Chief Ulm was clear that Bedford would need a substation in that corridor.  It was not a question of “If,” but of “When”.

The Select Board is aware of the situation. Hence, the Bedford Motel site is considered unacceptable for the fire station because it is “too far away” for rapid response to that corridor. The Board’s decision that 139 The Great Road is best because it is a few hundred yards closer is very subjective.  

I live on the edge of town – the last house on Page Road. It is 2-1/4 miles from the Fire Station. A school serving special-needs children and young adults on Oak Park Drive is almost 4-1/2 miles from the Fire Station by Burlington Road or 5 miles by Old Billerica Road. The Albion Road residential neighborhood is also almost 4-1/2 miles away. That is double the distance for the Fire Department to reach anywhere else in town.  Those who, live, work, and pay property taxes along that corridor don’t receive as rapid response as the rest of us. 

Consideration of a substation there should have been part of the discussion since Day 1 of the new main fire station planning.  The value of the high-tech properties along the corridor has skyrocketed.  The resident population has greatly increased.   When the Tri-Town highway improvement project is completed, a further surge in economic development is anticipated.

An independent impartial needs assessment should be conducted (perhaps by the State Fire Marshall’s office), and the issue should be brought to Town Meeting. Approval of a Town Meeting article for a substation would allow consideration of alternative main fire station sites. Neither Lexington’s nor Concord’s main fire station is even close to historic buildings in the town centers because both have substations.  

Burlington and Billerica have substations to protect their residents and properties along that corridor, but Bedford has failed to act. The Select Board has no interest in a substation, and it has stifled debate on the issue. It clearly intends to “kick the can down the road” for years.     

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The opinions expressed in Letters to the Editor are those of the writer, not The Bedford Citizen.

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Catherine Van Praagh
November 2, 2022 1:55 pm

Mr. Corey makes an interesting point, but I don’t agree that we have hit the “when” yet in Bedford. The need for a fire substation is based on the number of people needing services and the distance a fire department is expected to travel during a response. Bedford is has a significantly smaller population and/or size than the other towns Mr. Cory mentioned. Not only does this affect need, it affects the tax burden on the smaller number of residents to build, outfit, staff and keep up-to-date 2 fire stations – as there is no bulk discount for emergency vehicles or trained staff.

Town: Population(2020): Area mi^2:
Bedford 14,383 13.9
Billerica 42,130 26.4
Burlington 26,753 11.9
Concord 18,491 26.02
Lexington 34,498 16.5

I agree the American Planning Association’s encouragement that “One properly located fire station can provide more protection than several poorly located stations.” {PAS Report 98] and I believe Bedford is well on its way to greatly improving our Emergency Response infrastructure with the new station.

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