Letter to the Editor: In Support of a Fire Substation

Submitted by Margaret Donovan   

Whether or not Bedford needs a substation is a question of “when” not “if” and the answer depends on “why.” In a presentation to the Fire Station Building Committee, Select Board member Emily Mitchell explained why she thinks a substation is not needed at this time and is a “distraction” from the unquestionably urgent task of constructing a BFD headquarters. However, the data did not distinguish between protecting property and saving lives.

The Bedford Citizen reported that Ms. Mitchell “is well along in her preparations to refute a petitioners’ article.” I can’t speak for the warrant article’s petitioners or speculate on how lead petitioner Michael Seibert will counter the presentation’s central assumptions. But I can point out that the facts did not make the critical distinction between overall calls to the Northeast Quadrant and what proportion were EMS calls – or provide an outcome for each call.

Without that information, how can it be determined whether or not the 25 percent of town residents who live in that zone are receiving a fair share of Fire Department protection? If the substation issue has nothing to do with constructing the headquarters, why did a veteran Bedford Firefighter make a passionate, well-reasoned plea for it before the 2022 ATM vote – including the mention that it would improve response time to 50 percent of the town?

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Experts can often disagree, but his testimony that night deserves very close attention now. The economics of staffing a substation aren’t set in stone. While substations typically house an engine and an ambulance that race to answer an alarm “before the cavalry comes” from the central station, the ambulance is the cavalry in matters of life or death.

With the project on hold, this is a good time to consider whether the HDC decision could have been a blessing in disguise. There are many drawbacks to the current plan, no matter how well-intentioned it is or what it has cost. Speculation that changing horses would be a huge setback depends on the horse and should not influence making the right decision for the long term. The ingenuity that comes with being open to true possibilities can work miracles.

Finally, Select Board member Shawn Hanegan recently remarked how important he thinks it is to give the Commissioners the benefit of not questioning their motives. I hope that would be extended to everyone who loves Bedford, no matter where they may reside.

For more information, see saveourblock.org.

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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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John McClain
February 8, 2024 10:58 pm

Maybe we need a substation, but there is zero benefit, and high cost to coupling that discussion to the task of replacing our main station.

The key issue here is that a substation won’t give us more options in siteing the main station.

A substation will not result in materially less equipment at the main station — at most one ambulance. Removing one ambulance will not make the size requirements for the main station significantly smaller, nor will it fundamentally provide new design options. The one acre minimum lot size requirement for the main station will remain.

Second, having a substation wouldn’t make new areas in town viable sites for the main station. The configuration of the Concord/Great/North Roads intersection means the main station has to stay East of Wilson Park. Even if this wasn’t the case, the main station has unique capabilities (e.g. the ladder truck) that need to be kept near the center of town – Great Road between Loomis and Wilson Park. I have family living on Middlesex Turnpike; I don’t want the ladder truck moved further away from them.

Waiting to settle the substation question won’t make the main station better, it will just make it late.

February 8, 2024 7:26 pm

Ms. Donovan’s arguments don’t stand up to scrutiny. While accusing Ms. Mitchell of not providing detailed enough data, she herself provides none to back up her assertions. Specifically:

  • Public services are not allocated on a “fair share” basis. The Bedford Food Bank serves 200 families in need each week; am I receiving a fair share of those services? No, because thankfully I don’t need it. Emergency services are no different: they are on demand and there is no evidence that our staff cannot handle the volume of calls in any particular area of town.
  • The current plan having “many drawbacks” is a red herring. As Matt Hanson said last night at the HDC, there is no “golden goose” perfect solution. Every site has drawbacks and difficulties. Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you an oceanfront property in Arizona. Same with the idea that we could “switch horses” easily or the idea she has presented before that planning documents for a different site could be drawn up for $100,000 or so.

I respect the HDC’s process and expertise; why does Ms. Donovan not extend the same courtesy to the Select Board’s time and energy over the past six years?

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