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February 22, 2013

Two fire stations or just one for West Newbury?

Selectmen discuss closing Garden Street facility

(Continued)

The fire engineers did subsequently meet to debate the proposal, but when reached by phone afterward, fire Chief Scott Berkenbush declined to provide any details on how his board had voted. It was more complicated than just a simple tally, he said, adding that “It will really be clear when you see the letter,” referring to correspondence his board planned to present to selectmen next week.

Berkenbush called Kemper’s attempt to order fire engineers to close the station an overreach of authority. Although selectmen can “strongly advise” the fire department leadership, by statute they can’t “dictate to the Board of Fire Engineers.”

“He thinks he can do it, but he’s mistaken,” said the fire chief. The only recourse selectmen have is to not reappoint the same people as engineers next year.

Knowles and Kemper asserted that a commonly held belief around town that closing the Garden Street station would result in higher insurance rates is actually false. They noted that improved town roads and equipment upgrades over the years have made for significant reductions in responsetimes from the Central Station to all areas of town.

But Berkenbush says the insurance piece is more complicated than selectmen will allow.

“I’m just not as confident as they are that this is true,” he said. Insurance rates are based on a formula that factors in whether the property is on the town water system and how many miles it is from a fire station. The Garden Street station costs only a few thousand dollars to operate annually, so it is important to clear up any confusion over insurance before pushing for a station closing that could create a hike in insurance costs for private homeowners and/or town buildings such as the Page Elementary School, Berkenbush said.

Fire engineer Michael Dwyer said all direct and indirect costs to taxpayers must be considered before closing the station. But he also said he didn’t feel fire operations or emergency responses would be hampered if it was closed.

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