1,000+ sign petition to keep Mass. fire station open

New Bedford city leaders will decide whether to decommission the engine company in order to end the city's blackout policy


Kiernan Dunlop
The Standard-Times, New Bedford, Mass.

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — With Engine Company 11 set to be decommissioned on March 22, some residents and city councilors are still fighting to keep it running.

At Thursday night's City Council meeting, Councilor-at-large Brian Gomes submitted a petition to the council with 1,164 signatures in support of keeping Station 11 open.

This video screenshot shows a press conference held in February outside Station 11 in New Bedford where union representatives and protesters called for city leaders to not close the station. New Bedford's fire chief announced in February that the station would need to close in order to end controversial blackout policies throughout the city. (Photo/New Bedford Firefighters IAFF Local 841 Facebook)
This video screenshot shows a press conference held in February outside Station 11 in New Bedford where union representatives and protesters called for city leaders to not close the station. New Bedford's fire chief announced in February that the station would need to close in order to end controversial blackout policies throughout the city. (Photo/New Bedford Firefighters IAFF Local 841 Facebook)

"The battle continues," Gomes said in submitting the petition.

Several protestors who are opposed to the closing attended the meeting holding signs that read "Keep New Bedford Safe Prioritize Public Safety."

Gomes said though some on talk radio believe the fight to keep the station open has fizzled out, "It has not fizzled out, our position is the same."

At the end of February, the council voted to request the administration reconsider its decision to close Station 11 or any other fire station and fund all 10 companies in the Fiscal Year 2021 budget.

Gomes said that request to reconsider the closure was returned unsigned by the administration, and a similar request from property owners in the South End was also returned unsigned.

"The reason I am doing this tonight is I just want to show people how concerned the administration is with this, that they can send this stuff back unsigned," Gomes said.

Gomes said the council asked the administration to come to the table and figure out a solution together, but it was "To no avail."

"The administration did not allow us the opportunity to talk about it," Gomes said.

Of the signatures Gomes submitted to the council, 917 came from a petition that was started on change.org by Cheryl Rupkus, according to Renee Langley one of the protestors who attended the meeting and who has organized multiple protests around the city.

"(The signatures) were collected from people all over the city though, as this does affect the entire city not just the South End," Langley said after the meeting.

People who signed the petition online are allowed to leave comments with reasons why they decided to sign. Some said they were signing because Station 11 is in their neighborhood, others because they are firefighters in the city or family members of firefighters.

At the beginning of February, Fire Chief Paul Coderre announced that in order to end the controversial blackout policy that left a fire apparatus unmanned on a rotating basis, the department would have to decommission the engine in the South End.

Coderre said the policy had proven administratively cumbersome, generated overtime costs to the city and undermined firefighter morale.

The chief also highlighted a new public safety center that would be opening in the South End next year.

According to CFO Ari Sky, it would cost the city $2.7 million to fully fund all 10 fire companies and the cost is beyond the city's financial means.

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©2020 The Standard-Times, New Bedford, Mass.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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