Union’s Issues with Firehouse Site: Specifics, but Also Uncertainty

October 3, 2023

The Bedford firefighters’ union has injected a statement of skepticism into the run-up to a Town Meeting vote for financing a new fire station at 139 The Great Road, expected in March 2024.

An exploration of issues with the union president, longtime Bedford firefighter Lt. Mark Daly, indicated that although there are some specifics, uncertainty is also a key consideration.

“It seems like every day, there’s a hurdle or an argument, someone else is concerned about something,” Daly said in a recent interview at the fire station. “By posing our questions now, I hope we address a lot of those outstanding concerns. But there are questions that people have asked and have not been answered.”

Daly said, “We would be willing to stay here rather than build at the wrong location.” But he also acknowledged that if the current proposal isn’t realized, “Who would take up the torch?”

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Daly is an original member of the Fire Station Building Committee. At that panel’s Sept. 18 meeting, he read a prepared statement on behalf of Bedford Professional Firefighters, Local 2310, which said, in part, “We are questioning the feasibility of siting the Bedford fire station on this parcel of land.”

He said the firefighters are concerned because proposed designs, “restricted by the many limitations of the parcel will not help to facilitate the effective and efficient response necessary to service the town.” 

The concerns, Daly said, revolve around the “functionality and feasibility of the site.” Asked about specific issues, Daly explained:

  • The sight line to the west – looking left up the hill – when apparatus is exiting onto The Great Road. “It will be a little difficult because you will have a retention wall going all the way to the sidewalk.” In addition, he said, traction could be an issue for larger vehicles navigating the hill during snowfall. 
  • Traffic control. Daly said some drivers ignore red signals in front of the current station. The proposed site is more complicated. “They will have to capture the traffic after the gas station,” he said, referring to 105 The Great Road. He also worries about pedestrians and cyclists on the narrow-gauge trail that crosses The Great Road east of the site. “It’s a busy bike path. We’ve come down from the station here and people float out with a bike.”  
  • Space for apparatus. “Our big concern is current and future needs, and with the renderings I’ve seen, I think the apparatus bays will encompass what we currently have. But there’s no room for growth. Our forestry truck is outside now – and we are getting a command vehicle.”
  • The utility poles and wires in front of the address. Daly said the firefighters are concerned that the time it would take to relocate the utilities will delay the project.

Some of the firefighters’ issues have been discussed by the Building Committee and the Historic District Commission (HDC), such as changing the grade of the lot, addressing some limited wetlands issues, and accommodations for snow storage.

And others are more conditional, based on decisions by the HDC. That panel has the final say on exterior features because the site is within the Bedford Center Historic District. 

“Property lines and concessions need to be met,” Daly said. “The headlight concerns, the barriers with abutters – I understand all that.”

Indeed, in the statement to the Building Committee, Daly said the union is questioning the feasibility of the location “now that we have seen some designs that satisfy some of the requirements advocated by the HDC and the abutters.”

One of those options – placing the apparatus bays in the rear so they wouldn’t be visible from The Great Road – would be replete with issues, Daly said, ranging from response time delays and abutters’ complaints about light and noise to the potential of a delivery truck blocking the driveway.

But several members of the HDC already have thrown cold water on that option, and Interim Fire Chief Paul Sheehan definitively told the commission that bays in the front of the building are preferred.

“I am more worried about in the 11th hour, the project gets within 10 questions and five of them can’t be answered. The attempt to meet all the stakeholders want is virtually impossible,” he said, without citing examples.

“I don’t want the message to get out there that it’s firefighters vs. HDC or abutters,” Daly stressed. “We totally understand that it’s their job to preserve the character of the historic district.” 

“We appreciate the opportunity to inform the town of what our concerns are. We are not siding with any group.” 

Daly said he has worked well with the architect and the owner’s project manager, and the Building Committee’s response to the union was encouraging. 

“They said they would try to answer our concerns as best they could. I thought that was very supportive. They have our best interests in mind.” 

He said he conversed with residents on Bedford Day and “everyone was very supportive that we spoke out and aired our concerns. Through this whole project, the town has been incredibly supportive.”

Daly added that the firefighters are pleased with the preliminary interior layout with separate tiers for administration, apparatus, and residential quarters. “We are very happy that we had input on that,” he said. 

Daly also said, “I am still going to advocate as much as I can if that’s where the community agrees for it to go.” He noted that union members have “ideas on where it should go. It’s not our job to put that out there.

“We are not trying to derail the project,” he asserted. “I think you could build a fire station there. Whether it’s functional to the level required – some of those questions won’t be answered until we take the first call.”

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Cathy Minassian
October 4, 2023 1:16 pm

Y this may be a dumb question but why don’t they keep the current site and have satellite stations on different parts of town. Wouldn’t that be most efficient to respond to emergencies near Rte3?

October 4, 2023 9:11 pm

There are a couple of reasons. One is that the current site has structural, storage, and mold issues and isn’t really safe or modern enough to be used as it currently is. To keep and rebuild it and also build a substation would cost twice as much. On top of that, there would have to be some temporary location found or built, adding to the cost, time, and disruption. And having a substation means twice as much ongoing cost every year, too, because we’d need a whole crew at each station and double the equipment and facilities to maintain.

The financial realities of this whole situation are extremely difficult. Lots of people wanted the 175 Great Rd location to work out, but the asking price was $7.5 million, compared to the $1.75 million the Town paid to acquire the site that’s being designed. I have a hard time believing that many in Bedford really have the stomach to finance $6 million more just to avoid moving utility poles or figuring out the traffic challenges. I also don’t think that many residents want to pay for two $20 million+ construction projects and foot the bill for double the equipment, double the maintenance, and double the payroll of our current fire company.

Kathryn Rifkin
October 4, 2023 8:26 am

If the fire station moved to the Historic District location, will they need a substation somewhere else? Keep the present location as a substation?

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