Mitchell Shares Research Refuting Petitioners’ Fire Station Issues 

January 25, 2024
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Bedford’s Annual Town Meeting is still almost two months away, but Select Board member Emily Mitchell is well along in her preparations to refute a petitioners’ article that calls for an ad hoc committee to address the town’s overall public safety facility needs, focusing on a new Fire Department central station and substation.

The article was submitted shortly after plans for a new station at 139 The Great Road were derailed by a 3-2 Historic District Commission vote denying certificates allowing demolition and construction. 

The petitioners, all opponents of that location, provided support saying that Town Meeting should consider addressing the need for a central station and substation simultaneously.

Mitchell has been the Select Board’s point person on the fire station project for the past two years. She shared her data with fellow members of the Fire Department Building Committee on Monday, emphasizing that her data points have not been reviewed or endorsed by her colleagues on the board.

The last major study validating the need for a new central fire station was presented to the Board of Selectmen in 2018, and it reinforced an earlier conclusion that the current station is inadequate and expansion on that site is not feasible, Mitchell said.

“There’s a perception out there,” she said, that the station at 55 The Great Road can be expanded. “It’s a non-starter,” she said, with no room to grow in any direction. 

Other residents point to the Bedford Motel at 30 North Road, she continued, which is “problematic for a lot of reasons.” She noted frequent traffic congestion where Carlisle Road meets North Road, as well as a few hundred feet east at Willson Park. Fire Department Capt. Mark Sullivan added that apparatus would have trouble navigating the connector (called Park Row) between North and Concord roads – the northwest leg of the Willson Park triangle.

Mitchell also addressed the substation, primarily serving the Middlesex Turnpike-Crosby Drive corridor.

She said Fire Department call volume from the town’s northeast quadrant did not warrant construction of a substation in 2015, according to a consultant’s report. Since then, she reported, overall call volume increased by 15 percent, but by a much smaller rate in the northeast quadrant – from 18 to 20 percent of total calls.

Another variable she noted was a concentration of permits for storage of hazardous and flammable materials among commercial properties east of Route 3.

Overall, Mitchell said, “I see growth. I don’t see a spike. I don’t see a crisis.” 

She added that most commercial buildings are equipped with fire suppression systems.

Sullivan noted that the buildings’ use has “changed over time.” A few years ago, “hundreds of people in cubicles” occupied office buildings, many of which have since been converted to laboratory space or partially emptied as workers choose a remote option. 

Interim Fire Chief Paul Sheehan pointed out that a substation would require additional apparatus. 

“You don’t make the headquarters smaller,” he said.

The 2015 study said a substation should be equipped with an engine and an ambulance, Mitchell said. Sullivan noted most substations in area towns house a single engine, which serves as a vanguard “before the cavalry comes” from the central station. 

The substation would require an additional 12 personnel in the department: three firefighters per shift over four shifts.

The estimated cost to build and operate a substation, according to a 2022 estimate, is more than $9 million, not including land acquisition, Mitchell said.

Compared to the central station price tag of at least $20 million, “It is tempting to look at those numbers and think this is a good plan,” said Mitchell. But “the substation does not eliminate the need for a new headquarters. It doesn’t solve any of the things we need to solve. It is a distraction.”

Mitchell pointed out that an earlier petitioners’ substation article noted five town-owned parcels in the northeast quadrant. None of those locations is suitable for development of a fire station, she said. They include wetlands, a water standpipe, and the Bacon-Fitch-Ashby-Clark Mill site across from Carleton Willard, at 95 Old Billerica Rd.

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Mike Merrick
January 26, 2024 1:13 pm

If Bedford got rid of the office space on left and living space on right, the current location has plenty of space to rebuild a station to meet current needs. Put the living space above. Has that been considered?

January 26, 2024 3:43 pm
Reply to  Mike Merrick

That was suggested in September by representatives of the firefighters’ union. The president of the Bedford Professional Firefighters Local 2310 told the Fire Station Building Committee that the current location would be “the easiest place” for a new station. “It should be considered,” Lt. Mark Daly said. “That will be a much easier sell.”

Asked how the Fire Department would function during construction, Lt. Mark Daly said a temporary facility would be needed. Firefighter David Dillen said that a second story could be added above two additional apparatus bays on the west side. He also called for construction of an east Bedford substation.

John McClain
January 26, 2024 4:25 pm
Reply to  Mike Merrick

Yes, it has been considered. Putting aside the issue of where to put a temporary station while the current station is replaced, you need to account for the 2400 square foot out building, parking (which there isn’t enough of now), and the desire to have a deeper apron so they don’t have block traffic when pull the vehicles back into the station.

I might add the design for 139 already puts the living quarters on the second floor.

Last edited 1 month ago by John McClain
Mike Merrick
January 30, 2024 3:15 pm
Reply to  John McClain

Knock the Bedford Plaza to the ground and put a temporary station there. In fact, put anything there. That building is an embarrassment to the town. I know a dozen guys who would knock that building down and not charge the charge the town.

John McClain
February 1, 2024 4:36 pm
Reply to  Mike Merrick

Seems like that location might damage response times to West Bedford. Also not clear it is anywhere near big enough for a temporary station, especially given its shape. Finally, the town doesn’t own that land. The assessment (likely low) is $2.6M, so you need to get town meeting to approve that (assuming the owner is willing to sell) – on top of the new design work (if 55 The Great Road can be made to work at all).

Or we could just go with 139 The Great Road, which we own, have a design for, and doesn’t require the complexity of setting up a temporary station.

Nance Wolk
February 1, 2024 5:40 pm
Reply to  Mike Merrick

I think the owner of that building and the refugees living there might not appreciate that.

January 26, 2024 11:27 am

The petitioners’ article calls for a better understanding of where a substation fits into the public safety and capital expenditures big picture. If Emily Mitchell is well along in her preparations to refute the article’s logic, why was there not one mention of EMS statistics? Where is that research? Anecdotal references, cost assumptions, and Ms. Mitchell’s opinions are not data points. Sprinkler systems do not prevent heart attacks. Shouldn’t efforts to refute the petitioners’ article start by explaining why an ad hoc committee to address the town’s overall public safety facility needs, while the current project is in limbo, is not a good thing?

John McClain
January 26, 2024 1:23 pm

The problem is even if we decide we need a substation in town, it really won’t help with the problem of building and siteing the desperately needed main station. It won’t significantly reduce the amount of equipment the main station needs to house, thus won’t make it smaller.

A substation also won’t open any new locations for a main station. You might imagine a substation in the Northeast corner of town would let the main station move West, but in practice that station has to be the East of Wilson Park, so locations like the Bedford Motel are still not workable. Also since the main station will have unique abilities (e.g. the ladder truck) it will still want to be centrally located regardless.

Coupling the substation to the building of a new main station will just delay the date we get a new main station, without actually solving any problems in the mean time.

January 26, 2024 3:03 pm

I did not attend the building committee meeting but did attend the Select Board meeting immediately afterwards. In that meeting, Ms. Mitchell showed call statistics by area of Bedford, with their percentage changes since 2018, as well as demographic data going back to 2010. Just because the Citizen didn’t print all her research and information in full doesn’t mean she’s relying on her opinion. Anyone interested in seeing her figures can watch the recording of the Select Board meeting, during the committee liaison reports, where she presented exactly the data you mention.

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