By Sue Moynagh
It is hard to believe that the Providence Street Fire Station has been closed for almost three years. Back in 2008, some of us fought to keep it open because we were concerned about the safety of our neighborhood. The station was officially closed and reopened as a UMass Memorial Health Care EMS station in 2009.
What has happened since then? We have had a number of serious fires in the Union Hill/ Vernon Hill neighborhood, several on Arlington Street alone. Would it have made a difference if the station were still open? I think so. I also believe it is time to look at opening the fire station again.
When the station closed, there were no immediate problems. In 2010, however, there were two major fires in the Vernon Hill neighborhood, less than a week apart. On September 16 of that year, a fire broke out at a three- decker onWest Upsala Street. The heat from that fire scorched neighboring buildings and cars, and, since then, the building has been demolished and a new house occupies the site. On September 22, another fire occurred on Lund Street.
Responding fire trucks were delayed at both fires.
This year, there has been a run of major fires, starting with 56 Upsala Street on July 25. Arlington Street runs parallel to Providence Street and serious fires occurred right behind the old fire station. Recently, a fire claimed the life of firefighter Jon Davies at 49 Arlington Street. Adjacent to that site is another fire- damaged building at 51 Arlington Street. Both buildings are marked with the “X” that identifies buildings that are no longer safe to enter in event of another fire. Both buildings are behind the old Providence Street fire station.
On December 26, a fire broke out at 71 Harrison Street in the evening around 6:00 p.m. This house is very close to my home, so I also heard the arrival of fire trucks around 4:00 a.m. the next morning, when the fire broke out again. I decided it was time to voice my concerns about the need for added fire protection in this part of the city.
The Union Hill/ Vernon Hill section of the city has many old buildings, many over a century old. Some have been upgraded and are well- maintained by landlords. Unfortunately, many are not kept up and some are empty of tenants. You can see the dry- rotted wood on porches when you walk by. You can often hear smoke alarms beeping because the batteries are running down. Some of the tenants don’t care about disposal of trash or storage of flammable materials, or may not know how to do these things properly. These conditions can contribute to rapid spread of fire throughout a building, and it is essential that fire fighters are able to respond as quickly as possible when these fires occur.
Every minute counts – especially when lives are at stake.
There is another issue which could also impact the movement of emergency vehicles into the neighborhood. Because of the CSX railroad expansion on lower Grafton Street, part of Coral Street will be closed to two way traffic. This route is important for access of fire trucks to the Union Hill neighborhood. Making Coral Street one- way to traffic may not make much difference in moderate weather and under light traffic conditions, but how will trucks from the Franklin Street station maneuver on ice- coated streets, around downed tree limbs and through stalled traffic in severe winter conditions?
If the Franklin Street station trucks cannot respond to a fire, trucks from the station at McKeon Road are often summoned to these fires. If the trains are crossing McKeon Road, traffic can stop for almost an hour, and emergency vehicles obviously cannot respond by this route. This happens often enough to be a source of concern. We need a fire station in the neighborhood where these fires occur.
I hope that the city officials reconsider re-opening the Providence Street Fire Station, and also the necessity of keeping Coral Street open to two- way traffic. These fires have demonstrated the need for additional protection in the Union Hill/ Vernon Hill area, as well as prompt response and easy access when fires occur. Let’s not wait for another tragedy to wake up and take action.