AFD Central Station
Once again the important issues I plan to cover with gusto in the New Year, even as it becomes an old year, will come as no surprise to my regular readers. And once again we have a tie for #1 -- both of them related to public safety:
New South Amherst Fire Station: Short of immolating myself on the town common I plan to do everything possible to ensure the town, finally, gets off its lazy bureaucratic ass and breaks ground on the badly needed new fire station.
Yes, maybe my major structure fire in South Amherst 27 years ago unduly influences my preoccupation with fire safety.
But I'm sure that's the same for anyone who has dealt with The Beast up close, smelled its stench, choked on acrid black smoke, and listened helplessly to the demented crackle as your home was rapidly being consumed.
The needs of a 21st century fire department have outgrown the iconic 85 year old Central Fire Station. Neither of the ladder trucks will even fit into the building and the electrical systems and HVAC were state of the art back when our troops were fighting in South East Asia.
The first "study" identifying the need for a new station was issued back when President Dwight D. Eisenhower occupied the White House, while the most recent study, issued in 2006, collects dust in historic Town Hall (renovated in 1997 at a cost of $3.2 million).
Amherst DPW, 586 South Pleasant Street
A Request For Proposals is almost ready to hire a consultant to start the process of building new DPW home, the Jones Library is on their way to a $10 million renovation/expansion project, and Town Meeting recently approved a $1 million study of Wildwood Elementary School for a mega-expensive school building project that looms in the near future.
Last year's AFD capital request (ignored by town officials) included $8 million one year and $4 million the next for new South Fire Station
Just remember who will protect all these expensive new buildings (not counting all the new construction projects at UMass).
Maybe I'll print bumper stickers: "Fire Safety Comes 1st, As Should a New South Fire Station!"
And of course a new building or new equipment is pretty useless unless you have an adequate number of staff to operate it. Last year AFD Dispatch had to issue public pleas over the radio 200 times for off-duty personnel to report in for "station coverage".
Meaning not enough on-duty firefighters were available to do their job of protecting the public. What if The Beast came calling again in deep South Amherst at any of those precise vulnerable moments?
DHG 11/13/87 back when they had the staff to cover breaking news on page 1
The Town Manager seems to (sort of) understand the serious issue of low staffing at APD, pointing out to the Select Board last year how police staffing has decreased 10% since 2007 while UMass/Amherst has expanded student population 16% during that same time frame.
But he didn't let that motivate him enough to include any extra police (or firefighter) staffing in his budget that year. On January 15th Town Manager Musante will present his 2016 budget to his bosses the 5-member Amherst Select Board (and the Finance Committee).
Let's hope this time his $70+ million budget includes increased public safety staffing for both police and fire.
And let's hope while we're waiting, no one dies a preventable death.
Last night APD called in "mutual aid" from UMass PD and Hadley PD K9 unit to assist bagging a perp for Breaking & Entering at at Lincoln Avenue house (which was hit by a B & E two nights ago).