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Report of the Fire Department - 2011

I am pleased to present the Annual Report of the Wakefield Fire Department for calendar year 2011. The fire department budget has essentially been level funded for several years, despite the cost of fuel, equipment repairs and in general, the cost of doing business has increased constantly. The department has been relying on grants and private donations to operate on a day-to-day basis. The elimination of the position of Fire Prevention Officer three and a half years ago continues to affect the speed and efficiency in which inspectional and enforcement services have been delivered by the Wakefield Fire Department. The department has reduced its overall number of in-service inspections by more than 500. The lack of a Fire Prevention Officer’s position is further aggravated by the fact that Massachusetts continues to pass new and/or revised fire code regulations that impose increased enforcement authority on local fire departments.

The Wakefield Fire Department continued to receive significant financial aid in the form of numerous state and federal grants during 2011. The largest of these grants was a federal Assistance to Firefighter Grant (AFG) for the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER Grant). This grant subsidizes the addition of four full-time firefighters on a graduated five-year plan for fire suppression duty. The addition of these four positions raises the number of firefighters on duty to a level of twelve, something that the Wakefield Fire Department has not experienced in many years. This grant gradually increases the local contribution for payment of these positions until the fifth and final year, when the Town accepts full fiscal responsibility for them. An additional AFG grant of $89,100 for vehicle and portable radios was applied for and awarded in January of 2011. This federal and state assistance has become essential to the operation of the department as it continues to seek funding for the regular replacement of equipment that has approached the end of its service life, becoming noncompliant with government regulations and standards.

Emergency Incident Response

During 2011 the Wakefield Fire Department responded to 3,261 emergency incidents, including 2,808 Still Alarms and 453 Box Alarms. This is the second consecutive year that incidents totaled more than 3,000, indicating a substantial increase in requests for emergency service since calendar year 2009.

Although the Wakefield Fire Department did not have a fire in 2011 requiring a multiple-alarm response, there were several significant fire incidents that occurred during 2011.

Firefighters under the command of Captain Paul Pronco and Lieutenant Thomas Purcell responded to a garage fire at 7 Holland Road during the afternoon of April 13. The fire started as a result of a defective stove pipe that allowed fire to extend into the structural framing of the detached garage. There were no injuries at this incident and the fire did not extend into the nearby residence.

Crews under Captain Joseph Riley and Acting Lieutenant Christopher Crogan extinguished a dryer fire at Lakeview Circle during the afternoon of May 30. There were no injuries despite the very warm weather; however, several residents were displaced as a result of the fire.

Firefighters under the command of Captain Joseph Riley and Acting Lieutenant Phil Preston quickly extinguished a fire at 58 Plymouth Road during the afternoon of June 28. The fire started when a bathroom ceiling fan malfunctioned and started a fire in the ceiling. The fire extended into the attic directly above the bathroom before it was brought under control. A fourteen-year-old resident was credited for discovering the fire and calling 911. There were no injuries during this fire and the family was able to remain in the home.

Crews under Captain Richard Smith and Lieutenant Robert Taggart extinguished a fire in an apartment building at 580 Salem Street during the evening of July 13. The fire started when a portable fan unit fell onto a stuffed chair igniting it. Fortunately the building was equipped with a complete sprinkler system and the fire was controlled by the operation of a single sprinkler head located inside the living room. The fire damage was confined to the fan and chair within the room while the unit immediately beneath the fire suffered some water damage. There were no injuries during this fire and the occupant was able to remain in the unit.

A potentially serious fire was quickly extinguished by crews under Captain Richard Smith and Lieutenant Kevin Carney at 17 Gladstone Street during the evening of August 7. The fire started when an extension cord fell into an open container of gasoline while the homeowner was repairing a motorcycle in the garage. The resulting fire seriously burned the resident and caused considerable damage to the garage and exterior siding of the home. The entire home suffered significant smoke damage. One firefighter was slightly injured during this incident.

A fire that started on the front porch of 7 Avon Court was quickly controlled by firefighters under Captain Richard Smith and Lieutenant Brian Purcell during the afternoon of August 22. The fire was apparently caused by sunlight shining through a window on the enclosed porch being intensified by a mirror on the porch that ignited nearby combustibles. The fire was primarily confined to the front porch however the entire home suffered significant smoke damage. The homeowners were not displaced as a result of the fire however one firefighter was injured. A seven-year-old boy living next door was credited with discovering the fire and bringing it to his mother’s attention.

A fire caused by an electric space heater that was accidentally left on seriously damaged a two-family home at 49 Chestnut Street on September 1. Firefighters under the command of Captain Richard Smith and Lieutenant Brian Purcell quickly brought the fire under control. The first floor suffered considerable fire damage and both occupants of the building were displaced until repairs can be made to the home. There were no injuries to residents or firefighters as a result of this fire; however, a pet cat was overcome by smoke and died.

Wakefield was fortunate not to experience any fire deaths in 2011.

The Wakefield Fire Department responded to 61 mutual aid requests during 2011. Firefighters under the command of Lt. Robert Taggart assisted the Saugus Fire Department at a three-alarm fire in Saugus at 183 Lincoln Street that claimed the life of a resident. Wakefield Engine 2 provided coverage to the Middleton Fire Department after an explosion triggered a four-alarm fire at the Bostiks plant on Boston Road during the evening of March 13. A crew led by Lt. Brian Purcell assisted the Saugus Fire Department during the early morning of July 23 when a gasoline tanker overturned and burst into flames on Route 1. More than 20 fire departments responded to this significant tanker fire that tragically took the life of the truck driver and caused extensive damage to nearby structures and vehicles. Wakefield Engine 2 responded to numerous other fires in Reading, Stoneham, Melrose, Lynnfield and Saugus during the year and provided coverage to the City of Lynn during several serious fires in that city.

Wakefield experienced several significant weather events during the year 2011.

A severe winter storms struck the community on January 11-12, depositing more than 16 inches of snow on top of already significant snow accumulation from several storms in December of 2010. Firefighters and DPW personnel worked continually to dig out fire hydrants on streets that became progressively narrower as the winter drew on. The Wakefield Fire Department responded to numerous calls related to ice dams and frozen pipes.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts was hit with its first hurricane since 1991 during the weekend of August 27-28, when Irene cut across the state before hitting Vermont and New Hampshire. The Town implemented its emergency plan for the storm and responded to many reports of downed power lines and trees caused by high winds. Blocked roads were quickly cleared by DPW crews and all power outages were efficiently dealt with by the Municipal Gas and Light Department. The most serious storm-related incident occurred when a large pine tree fell onto and crushed a home on Minot Street. Fortunately, there were no injuries as a result of the storm.

The weekend of October 29-30 will remain very memorable to the Wakefield Fire Department for quite some time to come as an early winter storm blanketed the region with four inches of snow. The heavy snow collected on tree limbs and their leaves bringing dozens of them down. Approximately 3,300 businesses and households in Wakefield lost power at some point during the weekend. Police, Fire, Department of Public Works and Municipal Gas and Light crews responded to incidents involving downed wires, fallen trees, and damaged electrical services in an efficient and timely manner. Their prompt response ensured that citizens were safeguarded at all times until power could be restored. This storm as well as Hurricane Irene proved once again the Town’s good fortune at having its own municipal power supply company staffed with dedicated employees serving the citizens of Wakefield.

Personnel

As of December 31, 2011, the Wakefield Fire Department consisted of forty-nine (49) uniformed personnel: the Fire Chief; four (4) captains, four (4) lieutenants; forty (40) firefighters; and one (1) civilian administrative secretary. A fifth fire captain’s position, the Fire Prevention Officer, has not been filled due to budget cuts.

Calendar year 2011 brought significant changes to the Wakefield Fire Department.

Wakefield Firefighter Thomas Curran retired from the Wakefield Fire Department on September 19, 2011 after serving the department for more than 28 years. A Wakefield native, Curran was appointed a full-time Firefighter on March 17, 1983. He was the senior firefighter assigned to Group 1 at the time of his retirement. We thank Firefighter Curran for his service and wish him a happy and healthy retirement.

Firefighter Philip Rogers resigned from the department on September 6, 2011 in order to transfer and accept a position with the Chelsea Fire Department. Appointed a Permanent Firefighter on October 4, 1993, Rogers served 18 years with the department. We wish him well in his employment with the Chelsea Fire Department. Firefighter Timothy Robblee also resigned from the department effective September 21, 2011 to accept a position with the Malden Fire Department. Robblee was appointed to the Wakefield Fire Department on July 7, 2008 and we wish him success as he continues his career in Malden.

Firefighter Russell Ricker was appointed to the Wakefield Fire Department on November 2, 2011. Firefighter Ricker graduated from the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy Recruit training program before serving with the Amesbury Fire Department for eight years. Ricker is also a trained Paramedic. We welcome Firefighter Ricker and wish him a long and prosperous career with the Wakefield Fire Department.

Wakefield’s Firefighter Richard Cardavelli continues to serve in the National Guard after being called up from military reserve status to active duty in May of 2010. The department looks forward to his safe return when his tour of duty has been completed.

Apparatus and Equipment

There were no purchases involving vehicles or fire apparatus during calendar year 2011.

The department’s technical rescue trailer is on long-term loan to the Essex County Technical Rescue Team. The trailer is being put to good use during monthly training drills conducted by this team.

The department completed a major upgrade and replacement of its radio system during 2011. This project included the replacement of all mobile and portable radios used by the department as well as the re-configuration of the radio system to make it FCC Project 25 compliant or “narrow-banded” as part of a program designed to make more frequencies available to public safety agencies. The radio system upgrade was funded by a federal Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) award for $89,100 and as part of the department’s Fiscal Year 2012 Capital Outlay budget. Two (2) new roof venting saws, a thermal imaging camera, a Sensit Gold multi-gas detector and a floating fire pump for combating brush fires in remote wooded areas with nearby water such as Crystal Lake were also placed into service in 2011 as part of the 2012 Capital Outlay Budget.

All of the department’s pumper engines, fire hose, ground ladders, and breathing apparatus were inspected, tested and certified during 2011. The aerial ladder for Ladder 1 was also inspected and certified.

Training

During 2011 the Wakefield Fire Department conducted training sessions covering the following topics:

Firefighters Daniel Hancock, Dean Marsinelli and Kevin Wesley graduated from the twelve-week Massachusetts Firefighting Academy Recruit Training Program on March 25, 2011. These firefighters were certified during this program to the level of Firefighter I/II.

Captain Paul Pronco and Firefighter Michael Long are active members of the Essex County Technical Rescue Team, which became operational in February of 2010.

Fire Prevention - Fire Safety Education

All in-service inspections of commercial and industrial property in town were discontinued due to the elimination of the Fire Prevention Officer from the budget and the corresponding lack of resources to conduct follow-up inspections. There has been a serious decrease in the number of safety inspections (more than 500 fewer) conducted in the community as a result of the loss of the Fire Prevention Officer position. As a result, potentially dangerous fire safety violations are not being discovered and emergency business contacts for properties are not being maintained. All schools, nursing homes, and hotels/lodging houses were inspected quarterly. Any establishment in town with a liquor license and those requiring a fire inspection mandated by the state received an inspection. All inspections were conducted by the firefighting shift on-duty on a ready-to-respond basis or the Fire Chief.

The department also worked closely monitoring the annual Fourth of July fireworks and several blasting projects around the town. New housing units were inspected as they were completed on Blue Jay Circle, Carriage Lane, Gates Lane, Heron Pond (414 Salem Street), Montrose School Lane, Patriot Circle and Stoney Hill Lane as well as many other locations in town.

There is presently no formal fire safety education program conducted by the Wakefield Fire Department in the local school system due primarily to funding cuts and the elimination of the Fire Prevention Officer’s position. A program utilizing the Metrofire Regional Fire Safety House was discontinued due to lack of funding. This house was towed to all the elementary schools in Wakefield during the school year. More than 1,500 children in grades 1-4 from these schools attended fire safety classes annually in this safety house. These children received a hands-on fire safety lesson regarding home escape plans, smoke detectors and common residential fire hazards. This fire safety program had been very popular and is an effective means of presenting vital fire safety and burn prevention information to our elementary school children. Unfortunately, no public education program will be conducted during the next calendar year as well unless a funding source is identified. Several large pre-schools in town as well some kindergarten classes did visit both fire stations.

Several fire evacuation drills were also conducted at each school facility, and the department assisted in the multi-hazard evacuation and relocation drills practiced by each school during 2011.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I am grateful to the community and especially our Selectmen, Finance Committee and our Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio for their ongoing support during these difficult financial times. As the Town enters 2012, my goals are to re-instate the position of Fire Prevention Officer in the department and to improve both the department’s fire prevention and training programs.

I would like to thank all the members of the Wakefield Fire Department, the Wakefield Auxiliary Fire Department, the Wakefield Police Department, all other town boards, committees and departments and the citizens of Wakefield for their continued support and assistance.

Respectfully submitted,

Chief Michael J. Sullivan
Wakefield Fire Department

Further reading:

Reports from previous years:

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