February 17, 2023
Of Fire Trucks and Senior Centers
By Gregory T. Federspiel
Two unrelated topics for this week – our Fire Department vehicles and the status of establishing a Senior Center in Town.
First, fire trucks: Concerns were recently expressed about the condition of our fire vehicles. The Town remains ready to respond to emergencies despite a recent breakdown. Our front-line pumper truck, Engine 1, aided in the fire that resulted in the loss of an Essex house a couple of weeks ago when we had that blast of frigid arctic air. Water froze inside the pump causing damage to the parts. The replacement parts have been ordered and the truck should be back in service soon. In the meantime, Fire Chief Cleary was able to secure a similar pumper as a loaner from Lynnfield. Thus, the Town’s ability to respond with a front-line pumper is the same as it has been.
The Town also has a smaller pumper truck, called the Squad, that was purchased a few years ago. A former Fire Chief felt that a smaller, nimbler vehicle would be an important asset for the town given some of the narrow roads and long driveways we have. Voters approved this purchase. The current Fire Department staff feel that the Squad is too limited in its capacity. It has a much smaller water tank and the size of the ladders and amount of other equipment it can carry is limited due to its small size. None-the-less, it is a second response vehicle for now though the recommendation is to trade it in for a larger, new pumper or a ladder truck which also acts as a pumper truck.
The Town’s ladder truck has been unable to pass more stringent emission standards that the state has recently enacted. Despite a few attempts to improve the emissions based on manufacturer recommendations and upgrades, the ladder truck failed the emission tests again. We are continuing to discuss options. The vehicle, while approaching the typical end of its lifecycle, has some useful years remaining. Everything else is working fine if we can solve the emissions problem.
We are fortunate to have a strong mutual aid system in place here on the North Shore. A large event in any one community draws on the resources of multiple communities. If needed, a ladder truck from a one of our neighbors would be here to assist. Luckily, we seldom need a ladder truck.
Each year as part of our capital budget we have been putting aside funds for the purchase of new fire apparatus. The fund stands at nearly $1 million including the funds approved for a new ambulance which we can hold off on for now (current ambulance is only 3 years old.) New fire trucks and ambulances are expensive. A new pumper fully equipped will likely run some $800,000. A new ladder truck is in the range of $1.5 million. The Finance Committee, Select Board and the Fire Chief are continuing their discussions about how best to move forward with our fire apparatus replacement schedule. Ultimately it will be up to the voters at Town Meeting to approve any new purchases.
Switching gears to progress on finding a home for a new senior center, the efforts to find a suitable location continue. A half dozen options have been pursued over the last few years, but none have come to fruition yet. Past efforts have included a possible arrangement at the old Cricket building on Summer Street, an addition to the new elementary school, a possible new wing added to Town Hall, discussions with a couple of non-profits in town, and securing a right of first option on the Cornerstone Church assuming they would be building a new facility near Route 128 soon. Despite the efforts put into all these options, we have not been successful yet. A couple of new options near the center of Town are currently being pursued.
Establishing a Center for Seniors remains a high priority for the Select Board. We will soon have a town population where 40% of residents are over age 60. Indeed, this is our fastest growing segment. A vibrant Center that caters to the needs of this important cohort is needed. If you have an idea for a location, please be in touch!