Report says 5 Portland fire stations should be rebuilt

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PORTLAND — A consultant’s report concludes five of seven mainland fire stations need replacement.

The report, “Functional Assessment of Fire Station Locations,” completed for the Fire Department last October by Facets Consulting of Flagstaff, Arizona, said the stations are properly placed to meet the city’s needs, and response times fall well within an eight-minute standard.

“It shows the stations are in the neighborhoods where they belong,” Fire Chief David Jackson said Monday.

But the report also concluded the Engine 11 station, 580 Ocean Ave., built in 1956, has “a significant slab-settling problem in the dorm room area … the slab is sinking and sloping to one corner.” It tops the list of replacement recommendations.

Also on the list is the Central Station, a 93-year-old building at 380 Congress St., where the bay doors are barely wide enough for modern trucks and rescue units.

The report, presented to the City Council Health & Human Services and Public Safety Committee on Tuesday, comes as Jackson and his staff finish planning for renovating the North Deering Fire Station at 380 Allen Ave.

A kitchen fire in September 2017 closed the station; its were units shifted to Ocean Avenue and the Riverton station 1592 Forest Ave.

“Our goal is to be back in there by summer,” Jackson said Monday. “A lot of what we do at Allen Avenue will be considered the new standard. We will bring it up to the needs of the service today and bring it up to code.”

While Jackson said much of the Facets report was not a surprise – it detailed aging fire stations and recommended expanded staffing – what was most critical is it confirmed the department is in the right place at the right time.

City Manager Jon Jennings said study findings will be considered in his upcoming budget and a template as he and Jackson map out the department’s future. They are also working on a five-year plan to begin defining the needs and when they can be met.

“We have to take investing in our fire stations seriously,” Jennings said Feb. 8. “We are not looking to close any stations, we are looking to rebuild them.”

Facets said more study is needed on how and when stations should be replaced, and offered no cost estimates. It did say 50 years should be considered the life expectancy of a fire station.

The last new station built in the city is on Munjoy Hill, 134 Congress St. It is 41 years old. The remaining mainland stations are at least 50 years old.

Not only are the buildings in need of updates to meet current codes and energy efficiency standards, they are often outmoded in terms of firefighting strategies, and have a lack of practical accommodations for women now serving as firefighters.

Jackson said fire stations need better living accommodations than bunkrooms designed only for men, and better restrooms. Individual bedrooms would allow firefighters a space to decompress after responding to emergencies, he added.

The report also recommends splitting the city into two coverage zones while adding a new on-duty chief officer for the second zone. Existing companies would also be better served with three firefighters instead of two on duty at each station, the report suggests.

Those recommendations are also not news. Jackson said the department once had a deputy chief working out of the Rosemont station at 212 Stevens Ave. It has not been determined if and how the department could meet the staffing recommendations.

“That is a consistent theme in every report we have. If there is one thing we know, you can’t do anything without people,” Jackson said.

Most important to Jackson, the report also shows firefighters throughout the city can get to a call well within the eight-minute standard used before a fire typically “flashes over” to completely engulf a structure.

To determine this, Facets researched years of fire call data and used GIS technology to map out the responses and times.

“The work was excellent, put together so it was understandable,” Jackson said. “The hardest thing was years of run data for the mapping on times.”

Jackson said he was also impressed with how the study mapped out population density in the city and detailed how initial responses by engine companies frequently take four minutes or fewer, including the time it takes to dispatch a 911 call.

The quicker responses are critical since the eight-minute standard may not fully reflect how quickly fires spread now.

“When you leave a station, flash over may already be happening,” Jackson said.

The $28,000 study was launched in March 2017, and worked through four phases, including site visits and meetings with staff, as well as the data collection.

Even the suggestion to add a second deputy chief is tempered by the knowledge that while the on-duty chief officer is at the Bramhall station at 784 Congress St., Jackson said the on-duty chief is also out on the road a great deal.

The report is considered a guide to what can be done over time, even if the findings are not revelations, Jackson said.

“We hope for a plan to lay out for 50 to 60 years,” he said.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Portland firefighters preapre to answer a call Feb. 12 at the Central Station, 380 Congress St. A report recommends replacing the 93-year-old station with a building better suited to modern firefighting.

Portland Fire Chief David Jackson watches Engine 5 prepare for a call Feb. 12 at Central Station, where the bay doors are barely wide enough for modern equipment.

A consultant’s report on the Portland Fire Department concludes fire stations are well-sited to meet city needs, but recommends replacing the station at 580 Ocean Ave. and four others.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.