FALMOUTH — As expected, Falmouth’s fire-EMS chief recommended to the Town Council on Monday that the aging Pleasant Hill Fire Station remain closed indefinitely.
Chief Howard Rice said the length of time it takes emergency services personnel to respond to calls has actually dropped slightly since the council closed the station in May on a trial basis.
With Portland’s Ladder 4 Station only a mile and a quarter down Allen Avenue from the Pleasant Hill station, Rice said he’s confident that any major fire could be covered and he is pursuing a formal agreement with Portland to ensure coverage.
Closing the station has been discussed on several occasions in the past, but worry over the need for adequate protection, combined with some residents’ sentimental attachment to the neighborhood landmark and a concern about the volunteers based at the station, have added emotion to the discussion.
Last spring, residents of the neighborhood filled council chambers to support keeping the structure open. A compromise was reached in May when the town decided to temporarily close the station, which was built in the late 1800s as a dance hall.
The fire truck housed at Pleasant Hill was moved to Central Station, Rice said Monday, and its volunteer firefighters reassigned to other stations. All volunteers from that station who were previously active have remained active, he said. Their assistance, combined with help from the per diem, 24-hour staff and four fire safety students from Southern Maine Community College have contributed to a larger number of responders per call, he said.
The town will see about $50,000 a year in savings by eliminating the station. Closing it will also avoid repairs and upgrades that would have included a new heating system, new windows, a new septic system, an exhaust system, new floors and features to make the building handicapped accessible.
Rice said the level of disrepair became evident when the station’s chimney crumbled and completely gave way as it was being inspected recently.
Some councilors on Monday weren’t quite ready to recommend shutting the station permanently without holding another public hearing, though the decision to close it ultimately is up to Rice and Town Manager Nathan Poore. Poore reminded the council that the town budget contains no money for operating the station.
Peggy Roberts can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or firstname.lastname@example.org.