WEST NEWBURY — To borrow from popular social media, when it comes to the town’s relationship with the Garden Street Fire Station, “it’s complicated.”
At issue is whether to keep running fire services out of the 72-year-old building or consolidate the department so that all emergency responses come from the Central Station.
At a meeting recently, selectmen Chairman Bert Knowles asked the three-member Board of Fire Engineers to explain the “pressing need to continue operating out of the Garden Street station.”
Selectman Glenn Kemper then made a motion to close the building, saying the secondary fire station had become “obsolete.” Kemper encouraged the engineers to focus their attention and efforts on the Central Fire Station on Main Street, including a plan they are proposing to fund some full-time staffing positions at Town Meeting later this spring.
Knowles and Kemper questioned the wisdom of supporting a nearly $40,000 appropriation request by the Public Works Department at Town Meeting to fund long-overdue repairs to Garden Street station. The vast majority of the town’s call fire department now responds to Central Station, not Garden Street, when an emergency comes over their portable radios, they said.
Closing the station was an idea whose time had come, Kemper said, adding that selectmen could then discuss other possible uses for the facility,
But this idea apparently came as news to the fire engineers.
“I came here tonight to discuss the budget for repairing the station — not closing the station,” said engineer Mark Hemingway.
Selectman Dick Cushing said he wouldn’t favor Kemper’s motion because he didn’t want to “catch residents by complete surprise” by voting to close the station without any prior notice.
Although Kemper argued the move would not be “catastrophic” to the town, ultimately he withdrew his motion when it became clear the fire engineers were not ready to weigh in on the plan.