Report Sounds Alarm About Fire Station Conditions

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Infrastructure , Fire

On a tour of the station in September, Chief Anthony Pike stood in the first aid station, which was being moved to accommodate the new emergency services director. Crowded spaces are par for the course in the department, which some say has outgrown its building.  CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

ORLEANS — An interim report on conditions at the fire station include plenty of reasons for alarm.

Consultants have documented problems with airflow. No ventilation air is being introduced into the apparatus and rescue vehicle area, and two exhaust fans “do not appear to be functional,” MacRitchie Engineering, Inc., of Braintree, wrote. The presence of union-purchased exercise equipment in the same location “is leading to some serious health concerns” as the only apparent source of ventilation is opening the door, “which is not practical during the winter months.” The interim report labels this “an extreme health hazard.”

The MacRitchie report on HVAC systems and an overall facilities analysis conducted by The Galante Architectural Studio (TGAS), Inc., of Cambridge, which were presented to the selectmen last night (Feb. 5), detail a building plagued with problems that still manages to deliver services but is too small to continue to meet modern expectations. TGAS noted that the building’s ramps can ice up in winter, slowing emergency response time. “The building envelope is deficient and in need of significant repair,” TGAS wrote. The company’s suggestions include expanding the department’s footprint on the site and creating a separate entrance from Eldredge Park Way for visitors.

Inside the building are spatial quirks that add to concerns. During indoor air quality testing of a “worst-case” scenario (“a typical morning equipment check running trucks and equipment outside in front of the building... HVAC system off, exhaust fans in bathrooms on”), MacRitchie found that “a quick and noticeable increase in CO (carbon monoxide), VOCs (volatile organic compounds), and ultrafine particles occurred within 5-10 minutes of the diesel engines becoming active... In addition, a strong diesel odor affected various indoor areas. Locations most affected were the office spaces, day room, reception, rescue garage, and apparatus area. Levels in these areas were found to be well above what would normally be found in a typical office environment.”

A makeshift system for the kitchen range is an eyebrow-raiser. “The range exhaust hood...is vented through the roof using a corrugated rubber/plastic hose which is not suitable for higher temperature grease applications and could become a potential fire hazard due to excessive amounts of grease being stuck in (its) ribs,” according to MacRitchie.

Limiting the transfer of carcinogens is another area of concern. TGAS noted that the basement floor garage lacks a dedicated decontamination area for cleaning equipment and uniforms after calls, and does not have an airlock between the apparatus bay and living quarters. Speaking of the later, the report says that three bunk rooms constitute a building code violation by not providing ventilation and natural light for sleeping areas. The department’s kitchen is described as “too small and inadequate, failing in many areas.”

“This facility is in need of significant improvement,” TGAS concludes. The MacRitchie report, which also cites the need to replace the existing electrical system, offers three overall options: a three-to-five year plan for improvements while the town prepares to replace the station building, a 20-year plan to renovate and come into compliance with fire station standards, and a version of the second option that focuses on energy-efficient green construction methods.

TGAS found some positives among the negatives. The existence of a stand-alone building in a known location adequate for its coverage area and accepted by neighbors is a good start, and the company cited “possible room for expansion” on the site.

Meanwhile, the work of the department goes on inside and outside the building. Last week, Deputy Chief Geof Deering reviewed next fiscal year’s budget with the selectmen. With the retirement of Chief Anthony Pike this month, and the board’s decision to recruit his successor in-house, Deering is considered next in line for the job.

Deering admitted that “medical supplies are an ongoing challenge for us” in stocking the department’s ambulances. What must be carried keeps changing, and costs keep rising. The deputy recalled that, in 2007, an EpiPen, an aid in opening airways, cost $55. “It was double that by 2011, and now we’re paying over $300,” he said. “They have a 14-month shelf life.” What’s more, the state Department of Public Health now requires that ambulances carry two of the devices.

Asked by Selectmen Chairman Mark Mathison about regional procurement of supplies as a way to obtain lower costs, Deering said Cape departments buy medicine to treat smoke inhalation at a group rate. “I’d like to see that effort increased,” the deputy said. Mathison also suggested that local departments find a way to share devices like EpiPens before they expire. “I wonder if we could put together a state grant to help communities in the western part of the state and down here,” he said. “I can’t imagine spending 300 bucks for an EpiPen and throwing it away.”

“The conversation starts at the regional level,” Deering said, referring to the Cape and Islands Emergency Medical Services System, whose vice president is retiring Chief Pike. “I’ll see what the appetite is. If we get in the driver’s seat, I think there’ll be a fair amount of cooperation.”