When Chief Deckers came to Town, he made a promise during his official pinning ceremony “to place the Town and the Fire Department (FD) first, to ensure that we have the proper resources, knowledge, skills, and abilities to provide extraordinary service to the community”. To fulfill this promise he started to research ways to proactively reduce all types of risk in the community.
Several areas of concern immediately surfaced as potential risks: emergency response using proper resources, handling of increased incident call volume, and a difference in the perceptions of the services offered by the FD to the community. The first two items were easier and quicker to address, which included adding new technology to ensure proper response and increasing Peak Level (high demand) staffing to handle the increase of fire and medical calls between 8 am and 3 pm.
However, changing the perception of what services the FD could effectively and efficiently offer was definitely more of a challenge. Early after the first major snow storm in January, the Chief was stopped by residents and asked why the FD was not out shoveling hydrants. The Chief tried to engage the residents in an open dialogue about the core service delivery of the FD; however, in the end, the perception was that clearing hydrants was the full responsibility of the FD. This was concerning to say the least, because not having access to a hydrant when there is a fire could delay the FD from efficiently suppressing the fire in the earliest stage. It is important to note that the current staffing, depending on other on-going calls, will place up to 7 firefighters on a property within the first 5 to 10 minutes. The first arriving fire engine will be staffed with 3 firefighters and only has up to 750 gallons of water, which when used efficiently will only last for 2 ½ minutes. So obtaining a substantial water supply, a cleared out hydrant, is crucial for firefighters because they have a lot to accomplish in the first few minutes.
The Fire Chief had initially researched Adopt-A-Hydrant programs used by other towns in the Northeast but felt that the actual ratio of hydrants not adopted far outweighed those being adopted therefore the program would not produce the desired results here in Westwood. After much debate, the Chief decided the only option was to enact a Snow Clearing Article for the Spring Town meeting. An educational campaign was initiated through public hearings, phone calls, letters, and face to face discussions with residents and other government officials. The prevailing consensus of the public was that they did not support an Article that fined a property owner who might not be capable of clearing the hydrant or even around during the winter. So after analyzing all the feedback from the public, the Fire Chief has decided to change the Snow Clearing Article to remove section “c” which had the private property owner mandate to maintain the hydrant while keeping section “b” which will still fine contractors who deliberately pile snow and ice on hydrants.
In the end, the residents spoke and the Fire Chief listened to the concerns and will now work with the Town’s Informational Technology department and build an interactive Adopt-A-Hydrant application so town residents can compete against each other clearing hydrants and supporting their neighbors that cannot shovel. The FD will be adopting hydrants throughout Town especially in the high hazard areas and main roads (Rt 109, Gay Street, and Clapboardtree Street). More information will be made available in early fall and the FD is hoping that everyone will officially adopt the hydrant closest to their property and take part in the Neighbors Helping Neighbors campaign. Stay Safe!