MERIDEN — The Fire Department is moving a career firefighter company to the South Meriden Volunteer Station as part of a larger “response modification plan” to reduce response times in South Meriden and address issues posed by the new rail line.
The department plans to move an engine company from Station 2, located downtown on Pratt Street, to Station 1, on the west side along Chamberlain Highway, allowing another company to move from Chamberlain Highway to the South Meriden Volunteer station, according to Fire Chief Ken Morgan. Morgan hopes to complete the transition by April 1.
“The planning is ongoing, a lot of it’s coming together, and barring anything unusual happening, April 1 is the big shuffle date,” he said.
The engine company is being moved to the South Meriden station, which will become a hybrid of both career and volunteer firefighters, to address high response times, Morgan said. The department’s response time goal is four and a half minutes, but the figure for the South Meriden station has been around seven to eight minutes “for some time now,” Morgan said.
“If you think about it, if you had to hold your breath for eight minutes, could you do it?” he said. “So eight minutes when you’re in cardiac arrest is a big deal.”
The high response time has been caused, in part, by a declining number of volunteers at the South Meriden station. The station currently has 22 volunteers, about 15 of whom are trained to respond to fires, Morgan said, adding the decline in volunteers is a national trend.
“We’ve had issues where we’ve had fires within blocks of their fire station and they’ve been unable to turn out a crew,” he recently told the City Council’s Public Safety Committee. “That, although fortunately rare, has become a major concern for us.”
Because response times in South Meriden are expected to significantly improve, Morgan anticipates that the city-wide response time average will drop from about four minutes and thirty-six seconds to just under four and a half minutes.
Morgan said the volunteer unit will remain an “asset” to the department, but the number of calls they go on is expected to drop from about 900 to between 200 and 300 a year because the volunteers will no longer respond to emergency medical calls.
“They’re still going to be a vital component of the organization,” he told councilors.
When Morgan and other officials approached leadership of the South Meriden station about the plan earlier this year, they agreed.
“Their chief suggested they become more of an auxiliary department and not as much of a first responder organization,” he said.
The shift will also better position the department to respond to calls on the west side of the rail line going through the city. The department currently only has one career engine company on the west side of the tracks.
“It happens probably twice a week that we get delayed by trains,” Morgan told the public safety committee.
Under the plan, Station 2 on Pratt Street, which covers the downtown area, will no longer have an engine company but will have a truck company, Morgan said. An engine company is responsible for extinguishing a fire, while a truck company is responsible for removing smoke from a structure, rescue and forcible entry, Morgan said, adding all firefighters are cross-trained to perform all duties.
Morgan said the truck company at Station 2 will respond to medical calls. Station 3 on Broad Street, located about a half mile east of Station 2, will help cover the downtown area with help from Station 4 on Sherman Avenue and Station 1, on Chamberlain Highway.
Morgan doesn’t anticipate a significant increase in response time downtown.
“They'll go up a little bit...maybe 10 to 15 seconds,” Morgan said.
Removing an engine company from Station 2, Morgan said, will help the department more evenly distribute call volume among engine companies, one of the major goals of the plan.
Station 2 in recent years has responded to a higher volume of calls than others, but those will now be divided between Stations 1, 3, and 4.
“Basically what we’re doing is we’re going to spread our services out a little more and try to even the runs out so that one company is not running four thousand calls a year where another company is only running six hundred,” Morgan told councilors.
The future of Station 2, the department’s former headquarters, is “up in the air” because the building is in need of major repairs, Morgan said. There has been some talk about building a new fire station at a housing/commercial complex planned for 1 King Place, once home to Meriden-Wallingford Hospital, but Morgan said that is “very far off.”
The plan to bolster South Meriden will not cost the city money and could yield savings in the long-term because, with call volumes more evenly distributed, trucks and engines will undergo less wear and tear, “which in theory will give us more longevity,” Morgan said.
Councilors at the Public Safety Committee meeting expressed support for Morgan’s plan. Michael Cardona, chairman of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, said in an interview this week he thinks the improved response times in South Meriden and the west side will benefit the city.
Response times “can make the difference between life and death when you’re talking about a fire,” Cardona said.