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Plymouth Fire Dept gets facelift

September 03, 2009
PLYMOUTH — Recently completed repairs at the Plymouth Fire Department have helped to address several serious issues at the facility, but space and safety concerns still loom large at the Highland Street Station.

The current fire station was built as a "temporary" structure for about $80,000 in 1968, at a time when Plymouth was just making the transition to a full-time Fire Chief.

"This building was never designed to do what we are doing now, with a full 24/7 staff," said Chief Clogston in a recent interview at the station. "We are fortunate to have been able to do some work on the walls, replace the roof and overhead doors for less than $50,000, but it amounts to only a 'bandaid' to help keep firefighters safe."

Clogston said that the roof repairs were needed after years of water leaking into the station, damaging equipment and gear, and creating mold issues. "There were holes in the walls that let all kinds of animals in," said Clogston. "Now we have replaced the insulation so that heating costs might be reduced. I am very grateful that we could replace the overhead doors because I was constantly worried that they would fail to open or that someone would get hurt. We were lucky to be able to get the work done at a reduced cost and are grateful that the contractor, Construx, Inc, of Plymouth, worked with us to get as much as possible accomplished."

Now, Chief Clogston is turning his full attention to the task ahead. He says that plans to replace the current fire station have been in the works, in some form or other, for about 15 years, and he is hoping that the Town can take a step forward this year.

At present the Public Safety Building Committee is searching for an appropriate site for a new facility, evaluating as many options as possible according to a number of criteria, including impact on the response times for the majority of calls, which come from the downtown area. He said that the location of the station impacts everyone's insurance because of its impact on response times. The Building Committee is also in the process of aggressively pursuing fire station construction grant monies that are being made available by the federal stimulus program.

Touring the facility, Chief Clogston became animated as he described some of the everyday challenges faced by the fire fighters occupying a very "tight" space.

"We are very fortunate that Deputy Chief Tom Morrison has been able to get us some grants," said Chief Clogston. "But we are basically living in a garage. He was able to get us an exhaust removal system to help protect the firefighters from the long-term effects of inhaling exhaust, like cancer and lung disease. But the station is not designed for this equipment, which causes some logistical problems."

There are a host of other challenges as well. Since the station was originally constructed, the standards for fire safety and industry standards for equipment have changed. With six vehicles and two trailers stored on the garage floor, the apparatus is backed up against the back wall of the station, with only a foot or two of clearance between the trucks and the front overhead doors—the only passage available to the ambulance on the far side of the garage. There is precious little room to maneuver between trucks as well. If the doors of adjacent fire trucks are opened at the same time, there is no space in between. Firefighters have to "gear up" standing within a foot of 30-ton vehicles that may be moving at any time.

Chief Clogston explained that the department had to purchase a special order 27-foot truck because a standard 30-foot truck will not fit into the garage. There is at one piece of equipment that has to be housed in another town because there is no space at the Plymouth station.

The firefighters on duty for a 24-hour shift are sleeping in a small bunk and locker room directly off the boiler room, which the Chief considers to be unsafe, especially in a station with only battery powered smoke sensors.

The day room for the firefighters serves as kitchen, dining room, laundry, meeting and conference room, and the one bathroom includes the single shower. There is virtually no room at the present site to expand. The entire lot is taken up with the current facility. Chief Clogston is considering the possibility of ordering a roll off storage container for the parking lot to free up some space in the station. But parking is at a premium as well.

"We are a 40 person department, with 10 full-time and 30 call firefighters. When we get a call that requires more than one squad, the parking lot is at full capacity," said Clogston. "We are doing the best we can with what we have, but these are very difficult conditions."

Martin Lord & Osman
Varney Smith
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