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Report of the Fire Department - 2019

I am pleased to present the Annual Report of the Wakefield Fire Department for calendar year 2019. The department had a very busy year dealing with both emergencies and the construction boom taking place around town. The department responded to an all-time high of 4,002 responses during 2019. Emergency responses over the past several years have been steadily increasing, which is a direct result of the numerous condominium and apartment complexes being constructed around town as well the now fully-occupied Brightview Assisted Living facility. This steady increase in responses warrants close monitoring in the future and could result in the need for additional staffing on existing trucks or perhaps more fire apparatus in the future.

The Wakefield Fire Department continued to receive significant financial aid in the form of state and federal grants during 2019. The department received a Firefighter Turnout Gear grant from the Department of Fire Services in the amount of $2,475 as well as a federal Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for $195,229 during 2019. Grant funding has become vital to funding the purchase of new equipment and specialized training for the department as the department’s operating budget becomes increasingly taxed by the costs associated with equipment, tool and apparatus repair and maintenance.

State funding also pays for the training and response costs associated with the department’s participation in the regional hazardous materials and technical rescue response teams.

Emergency Incident Response

During 2019 the Wakefield Fire Department responded to 4,002 emergency incidents, including 3,541 Still Alarms and 461 Box Alarms. This represents an all-time high in the department’s history of emergency responses. Wakefield had no civilian fire deaths in 2019 and had no fire responses in 2019 requiring a multiple-alarm response.

There were several other significant fire incidents that occurred during 2019 that did not require a multiple-alarm response.

Firefighters under the command of Captain Randy Hudson responded to a reported truck fire at 96 Audubon Road shortly after noon on February 15. Firefighters arrived to find a refrigerated box truck in the parking lot fully involved with fire spreading to adjoining box trucks of identical design on each side. Firefighters worked quickly to contain the wind-driven fire to the three trucks initially found burning. Two box trucks were completely destroyed with the third suffering considerable smoke and heat damage. There was no fire extension into the building. The cause of the fire was investigated and determined to be an electrical malfunction in the charging system that the fleet of vehicles plugged into to keep their refrigeration equipment running. An electrical short circuit ignited the first truck and the wind and close proximity of the adjoining vehicles allowed for the fire to spread. The fire caused an estimated dollar loss of more than $200,000. There were no injuries to either plant employees or firefighters as a result of the fire. A Reading fire engine covered Wakefield fire headquarters during this incident.

Firefighters led by Captain Thomas Purcell responded to a reported house fire at 72 Outlook Road during the afternoon of May 8. On arrival, firefighters found that a resident had accidentally started a fire beneath the exterior siding of the single family home while using a torch to burn off vegetation around the foundation. Firefighters quickly removed the siding in the affected areas and extinguished the remaining fire that the resident was not able to access. The fire was contained to the exterior wall areas that had ignited and did not extend into the home. The interior of the home suffered significant smoke damage, displacing the occupants for several days until the residence could be cleaned. There were no injuries to either of the occupants of the home or any responding firefighters during the fire. A Stoneham engine covered Wakefield fire headquarters during the fire.

Captain Thomas Purcell directed firefighters responding to a reported structure fire at the apartment building located at 105 Hopkins Street during the early afternoon of October 18. Firefighters arrived to discover a fire burning inside an exterior balcony wall of a second floor unit. The fire was contained to this area and quickly extinguished with a hose line. There was no fire extension into the apartment and no injuries as a result of the fire. The cause of the fire was determined to be the careless disposal of a cigarette that had been discarded on the balcony. Weather conditions were very windy on the day of the fire and it was fortunate that the fire did not extend beyond the balcony.

Firefighters under the command of Captain Thomas Purcell responded to a fire alarm activation at Sabatino’s Restaurant, located at 330 Main Street, during the late afternoon of November 1. Firefighters arrived to find a smoke condition inside a bathroom at the rear of the restaurant as well as the basement area crawl space underneath it. Firefighters soon discovered a smoldering fire burning inside the wall around an exterior opening made for a drainpipe. A small pile of trash and combustibles had ignited in the exterior wall creating the smoke condition. The wall opening was widened and the fire was quickly extinguished. The cause of the fire was determined to be the careless disposal of a cigarette that had been discarded and fallen into an opening adjacent to the drainpipe. There were no injuries as a result of the fire and the restaurant was able to remain open.

Firefighters led by Captain Randy Hudson responded to a reported house fire at 21 Forrester Road during the morning of December 30. Firefighters arrived to find the main electrical service to the home on fire. They entered the home finding a moderate smoke condition throughout the residence. The Wakefield Municipal Gas and Light Department was called to the scene to shut down power to the residence at the utility pole. Firefighters were then able to gain access to the fire and extinguish the remaining fire burning in the wooden siding. Investigation of the scene soon revealed that the electrical cable going into the house service had worn through and failed causing extensive arcing in that area. There was no fire extension to the rest of the home and no injuries as a result of the fire. The residents were able to remain in the home.

There were several non-fire related incidents that were noteworthy in 2019.

Firefighters from Engine 1 and Ladder 1 under the direction of Captain Paul Pronco assisted an injured worker at a company on Audubon Road who has caught his arm in a conveyor belt during the morning of January 11. The worker had been freed from the machinery just prior to the arrival of firefighters and was treated by them and Action Ambulance paramedics for his serious injuries before being transported to Massachusetts General Hospital for follow-up care.

Firefighters led by Captain Randy Hudson responded to the McDonald’s restaurant at 572 Main Street during the early morning of April 3 for a report of a vehicle driven into a building at that location. On arrival firefighters found that a car had driven into a storage shed behind the main restaurant building. The lone occupant of the vehicle was not seriously injured but was transported to an area hospital as a precaution. The Building Inspector was notified and determined that there was no structural damage to the building. The vehicle was removed from the building and towed from the scene. The main restaurant was not affected by the collision and was able to remain open.

Lieutenant Sean Curran led a crew of firefighters from Engine 2 responding to a reported vehicle off the road at 61 Tamworth Hill Avenue on the morning of April 13. On arrival they found a vehicle had rolled through a fence before proceeding down an embankment and getting hung up on a wall at the rear of 22 Humphrey Street. The car was unoccupied at the time and there were no injuries. Firefighters stood by until the vehicle could be lifted off the wall and restored to its original location on Tamworth Hill Avenue.

Wakefield was hit by a significant wind storm during the evening of October 16 into the following day. The department responded to numerous calls for assistance including reports of wires arcing in trees, downed power lines and fallen trees. Firefighters under the command of Captain Randy Hudson responded to a residence at 47 Montrose Avenue shortly after 3 a.m. after a resident there reported an odor of smoke inside his home. Firefighters quickly determined that a tree had fallen in the yard partially pulling the electrical service from the home and in the process causing the electrical wiring inside the home to overheat and arc. The Wakefield Municipal Gas and Light Department responded and disconnected power to the residence. Firefighters checked the home with thermal imaging cameras and determined that the damage did not extend beyond the home’s electrical wiring.

A crew led by Lieutenant Daniel Hancock responded to a serious motor vehicle accident with injuries on North Avenue at the Route 95 bridge during the early evening of November 29. Firefighters arrived to find a five-car accident that began with two vehicles wrecked just beyond the bridge and ended up with three more vehicles involved further down Walker’s Brook Drive. Wakefield firefighters assisted crews from Reading Fire, Woburn Fire, Cataldo Ambulance, Action Ambulance and Armstrong Ambulance treating and transporting occupants of the vehicles to area hospitals.

Firefighters from Engine 2 under the command of Lieutenant Joseph Albert responded to the scene of a work-related accident at 37 Greenwood Street during the morning of December 10. Upon arrival, firefighters quickly discovered that a 34-year-old male had fallen to the ground during a tree removal operation striking his head. Sadly, the man’s injuries were very severe resulting in his death.

Firefighters under the command of Captain Randy Hudson responded to a report of wires down in the area of Bellevue Road and Morrison Avenue during the afternoon of December 16. Firefighters arrived within several minutes to find that a crane truck had caught a low hanging electrical cable snapping a utility pole in half. The crane was then covered with energized power lines, forcing the driver to remain in the truck until workers from the Wakefield Municipal Gas and Light Department were able to render the area safe. The driver was not injured during this incident and the crane was able to drive away after it had been freed from the power lines.

The Wakefield Fire Department responded to 58 requests for mutual aid during 2019.

Mutual aid responses included fires in Lynnfield, Melrose, North Reading, Reading, Saugus, Stoneham and Woburn. Lieutenant Daniel Hancock and a crew from Engine 1 assisted the Reading Fire Department at the scene of a 3-alarm fire at 54 Temple Street during the afternoon of January 22. Firefighters from Engine 2 under the command of Lieutenant Joseph Albert assisted the Stoneham Fire Department at a 3-alarm fire in a large horse barn during the evening of July 25. Acting Lieutenant Gary Hill led a crew from Engine 1 that assisted the Woburn Fire Department at the scene of a 3-alarm fire on Sturgis Street during the early morning of August 16.

Lieutenant Michael Long participated in two incidents involving activations of the Massachusetts District 2 Hazardous Materials Response Team during 2019. The first involved a response to 35 Gatehouse Drive in the City of Waltham during the afternoon of March 19. The team responded to and controlled a leak involving an unknown hazardous material. The team worked quickly to contain the spilled product which was then properly disposed of by a hazardous materials clean-up contractor. One civilian was treated at the scene for exposure to the chemical and transported to an area hospital. The second response made was to a Wakefield residence on Fairmount Avenue during the afternoon of April 18 and involved an old thermometer that had broken and released a quantity of liquid mercury. A small team of technicians was dispatched to the scene and the spilled mercury was quickly cleaned up and packaged for proper disposal at a nearby waste disposal facility. This regional hazardous materials response team is funded by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which pays for all the associated training and incident response costs to support the team’s activities.

Captain Paul Pronco and Firefighter Steven Bivens are members of the Northeast Massachusetts Technical Rescue Team. This team responded to one incident during 2019 involving the recovery of a deceased person trapped inside a home in Saugus on September 15. The team actively trains and prepares for incidents that may require a technical rescue such as building and trench collapses. The Northeast Technical Rescue Team is partially subsidized by funding provided by The Northeast Homeland Security Regional Advisory Council, which reimburses the department for a portion of the training and incident response expenses associated with this team.

Personnel

As of December 31, 2019, the Wakefield Fire Department consisted of 52 personnel: the Fire Chief, a Deputy Fire Chief, five Captains, including a Captain assigned as a Fire Prevention Officer, 12 Lieutenants, 32 Firefighters; and one civilian administrative secretary. The position of Deputy Fire Chief, formerly established as part of last year’s budget, was created on January 1, 2020 and is currently open awaiting the results of a Civil Service Assessment Center to be held on March 28, 2020.

The year 2019 brought several personnel changes to the Wakefield Fire Department. There were no retirements or promotions made during calendar year 2019. Two new Wakefield Firefighters, Sean Gill and Patrick Farrell, both residents of Wakefield, were appointed permanent Firefighters on December 19, 2018 and were subsequently enrolled in a ten-week training program with the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy (MFA) Recruit Class 271 on December 31, 2018. Firefighters Gill and Farrell successfully graduated the recruit training program on March 8, 2019. The department welcomes Firefighters Gill and Farrell with warm wishes for a long and productive career in the fire service. Two additional recruit firefighters, Michael Scheri and Michael Marroquin, were hired during 2019 and will start their recruit class at the MFA in January of 2020.

Apparatus and Equipment

The department did not replace any major fire apparatus during 2019. Annual Town Meeting in May of 2019 authorized $700,000 for the purchase of a new 1250-gallon-per-minute pumper for the department. The department has been busy preparing the specifications for this pumper. The Engine will be built by Seagrave Fire Apparatus at its plant in Clintonville, Wisconsin with a delivery date near the end of 2020.

The department received a federal Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for $195,229 to be used to partially fund one Firefighter position for the next three years. This SAFER grant will fund 75% of the cost of this Firefighter for the first two years and 35% of the cost for the position for a third year. This grant will fund a Firefighter vacancy created by the establishment of a Deputy Fire Chief and the resulting internal promotions to Captain and Lieutenant that position will in turn create within the department’s ranks.

A capital expenditure of $180,000 authorized to make upgrades and improvements to the radio system infrastructure for both the police and fire departments, including radio receivers, repeaters, comparators and associated equipment was completed in 2019. This funding also added an additional radio receiver site at the Northeast Regional Vocational School for the police and fire radio systems, boosting the radio signal for this area of the town. A radio receiver site formerly located at the Colonial Point Apartment Building on Audubon Road has now been relocated to the Four Points Sheraton Hotel. All Verizon copper phone lines connecting the old radio receivers to the Public Safety Building as well as the main repeater on the Hart’s Hill water tower have now been replaced with new fiber optic cables, making the radio systems for both departments more efficient and reliable.

Wakefield Emergency Management Coordinator Thomas Walsh applied for and received an Emergency Management Performance Grant (EMPG) grant of $6,315 to be used towards the purchase of body armor and ballistic helmets for Wakefield Firefighters. This equipment would help to protect department members participating in a rescue task force group during an incident involving an active shooter. Firefighters, working under the direction and protection of law enforcement personnel, would enter an area involving an active shooter, identify victims, render first aid and evacuate them to a safe area where they could be transported to an area hospital for follow-up care. This grant was awarded in January of 2019.

The department received one last grant from the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services for $2,475 from the Fiscal Year 2020 Firefighter Turnout Gear Program for the purchase of 25 sets of firefighting gloves for approximately half the department’s members. This set of gloves will be a second issue to these department members to be used whenever their first set of gloves is damaged or is in need of cleaning. Recent studies have reinforced the need for firefighters to have a second set of protective gear to use while their first set is cleaned of any carcinogens it may have been contaminated with during fires and hazardous materials incidents. This contamination has been tied into several occupational illnesses including cancer and must be cleaned off of protective gear after every emergency incident where potential contamination can occur. The department hopes that this new grant program will continue in the future to allow for the purchase of second sets of auxiliary protective clothing such as gloves, hoods, and boots for department members in the future. Funding is already in place in the operating budget to purchase at least ten sets of protective coats and pants every year as the department moves towards each member having two sets of gear that is less than ten years old, something that national fire protection standards are calling for now.

All the department’s pumper engines, fire hoses, ground ladders, air compressor and breathing apparatus were inspected, tested and certified during 2019. The aerial ladder for Ladder 1 was also inspected and certified. All breathing apparatus face pieces used by department members were also fit-tested during the year to ensure their proper operation.

Training

The department participated in many training programs this year, including programs offered by the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy as well as outside vendors brought in to train on specialized topics. During 2019 the Wakefield Fire Department conducted training sessions covering the following topics:

Captain Paul Pronco and Firefighter Steven Bivens continue to be active members of the Northeast Massachusetts Technical Rescue Team, and Lieutenant Michael Long continues to be an active member of the District 2 Hazardous Materials Response Team.

Fire Prevention

The Department conducted in-service inspections of all commercial and industrial properties in town during 2019. As a result, 583 business fire inspections were conducted in the community between March and December of 2019 by on-duty firefighters operating on a ready-to-respond basis. These in-service inspections also have the added benefit of familiarizing department members with the floor plans and individual hazards associated within buildings prior to an emergency situation. An additional 83 quarterly inspections of school buildings, nursing homes, hotels and boarding homes were also conducted by on-duty firefighters.

Captain John Walsh, the department’s Fire Prevention Officer, conducted 66 inspections related to local and state licensing of restaurants, group homes, day care centers and after-school programs. Captain Walsh also completed 737 compliance inspections during 2019 to ensure that any potential violations or hazards discovered were corrected. The compliance checks also allow emergency business contacts for these properties to be updated, resulting in faster notification of property owners during an emergency.

The year 2019 continues to reflect a significant construction boom in Wakefield. Many buildings were demolished in preparation for new construction including locations on Main Street, North Avenue and Water Street. Single family homes in many locations around town were torn down to make room for new structures. The department‘s Fire Prevention Bureau closely monitored and completed final inspections for a 1000-unit self-storage facility at 209 Water Street, a 34-unit apartment building located at 3 Bennett Street and a smaller 8-unit apartment building at 640 Main Street. Construction is presently well under way for a 19-unit apartment building at 592 North Avenue as well as an 81-unit apartment building at 69 Foundry Street, the site of the former Wakefield Corporation Building. The properties at 27 and 37 Water Street are being renovated and converted over to a mixed-use commercial/residential occupancies. The department conducted approximately 112 on-site inspections of construction sites during 2019.

This year promises to be another busy year for the Fire Prevention Bureau as more construction projects have been proposed or approved for Foundry Street and Tarrant Lane. The Fire Prevention Bureau will closely monitor these developments during calendar year 2020. The department conducted reviews for approximately 175 sets of plans including dozens of residential additions, new homes and commercial tenant fit-ups in many locations around Wakefield. The department also maintains a strong presence at Wakefield’s annual Fourth of July Parade, Italian Festival and Holiday Stroll.

The department presently does not have the necessary funding to conduct fire safety classes in the local school system. This is unfortunate since classroom instruction of fire safety and survival skills have been proven to save the lives of school-age children on many occasions state wide. Several large preschools in town including the preschool center at the Doyle School as well as some kindergarten classes visited both fire stations during 2019. Multiple fire drills were conducted at each school facility and the department assisted with multi-hazard evacuation drills at every public and private school in Wakefield during 2019. The department participates in school activities including guest reader days and fire truck washings whenever possible as it strives to increase its visibility in the school system and promote awareness on fire safety issues.

A full-time Fire Prevention Officer as well as the new Deputy Fire Chief’s position added last year fill a vital role in the Wakefield Fire Department. The department simply can’t function properly without these positions. The recent construction boom has resulted in many large construction projects that require close tracking to ensure that proper safety procedures are being complied with and in place. The Deputy Fire Chief serves as the department’s executive officer, assuming command of the department in the absence of the Fire Chief. The Deputy also coordinates training, develops new policies and procedures, assists in identifying grants and helps to prepare the operating budget. The Deputy also coordinates the maintenance of the department’s fire stations, equipment and vehicles.

Conclusion

I am grateful to the community and especially the Town Council, Finance Committee and Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio for their ongoing support during the year. As Wakefield enters 2020, my goals are to closely monitor the town’s ongoing major construction projects, provide quality training programs for department members and monitor the construction and outfitting of the new fire department pumper authorized by Town Meeting. I would like to thank all the members of the Wakefield 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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