Selectmen hear firefighters’ concerns; will help find solutions

The selectmen requested that three Harvard firefighters come to their Dec. 5 meeting to put out a different kind of fire—one that was sparked at Special Town Meeting last month when the issue of selling the land behind the fire station prompted discussion of storage, parking, and traffic-flow at the station. Fire Chief Rick Sicard, Deputy Chief Charlie Nigzus, and Lt. Bill Barton discussed the current problems with the selectmen this week, some possible short-term solutions, and the scope of a study that the chief is requesting.

For the past four years, Sicard has requested $20,000 for a study to determine the feasibility of adding a second floor to the fire station. A second floor would provide not only more space for equipment, but would allow the first floor to be opened up for drive-through bays, which Nigzus said are safer because of the dangers of backing up large equipment into the existing bays.

But since the issue of public safety was brought up at Special Town Meeting, Sicard and the selectmen agreed that the study should also include a traffic study of the area around Town Hall as well as the feasibility of one or two other locations for the station. Sicard said that he believes the current traffic pattern around Town Hall is “the best we can do,” but he has expressed concern about fire trucks driving through the area in front of Town Hall, where pedestrians might be crossing the driveway and cars might be backing out of parking spaces. He added that having a fire station directly on a street and pulling out into the street would obviously be safer.

Time for towing

Funding for the study would have to be approved at Town Meeting in the spring, and the work would take time to complete, so Selectman Ken Swanton asked about short-term solutions that would alleviate some of the problems firefighters are struggling with right now. Nigzus mentioned the need to stop cars from parking in areas that could impede fire vehicles. One is in the hash-marked area next to the ramp at Town Hall; another is beyond the last parking spot in front of Town Hall at the Ayer Road intersection; and a third is in front of the door to the vault building where the fireboat is currently stored. Town Administrator Tim Bragan suggested “No Parking—Tow Zone” signs, and the selectmen agreed that those signs should be installed.

Another short-term solution that the selectmen discussed would improve parking by paving an area in front of the fire station on the left side that is currently covered in wood chips. Nigzus said that about 8 to 10 feet could be paved there, and it would not only provide parking but also a larger area for trucks to turn around. In addition, Nigzus said, it would stop the problem of wood chips washing down the hill onto other properties on Elm Street. Bragan said it is likely that fill would be needed to shore up the hill on that side of the station, and the selectmen directed him to discuss the project with DPW Director Tim Kilhart. Bragan added that asphalt plants are closing soon for the winter, so the project would likely have to wait until spring.

More money for study

Capital Planning and Investment Committee (CPIC) members said that since the feasibility study’s scope has expanded, $20,000 may not cover everything, and they have requested a new number from Sicard, who told the selectmen he is gathering information to provide that number to CPIC.

In the meantime, Selectwoman Kara Minar was asked to contact the Planning Board about the traffic study, and she suggested using the Montachusett Regional Planning Commission. Last year, the regional commission completed a traffic and parking study of the town center, but the area that includes Town Hall, Hildreth House, and the fire station was not included because plans for Hildreth House and senior housing next to it were still evolving.

Chairwoman Lucy Wallace and Selectman Stu Sklar will work with Sicard, Nigzus, and Barton to define the scope of the feasibility study, and if CPIC recommends funding the study, the request will be put to a vote at Annual Town Meeting next year.

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