Visitors to new Public Safety Building treated to demonstrations, good eats and a real fire call

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Nearing the close of Sunday’s Open House for Chester’s new Public Safety Building – which featured demonstrations by both the Police and Fire departments – attendees got a chance to see a real-life response to a fire call.

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Just before 4 p.m., the Chester Fire Department was dispatched to a barn fire on Route 11 east. With a large number of the department’s 24 firefighters present for the Open House, it was just a matter of moments before everyone was in turnout gear and rolling out of the station. Unfortunately, the call from dispatch was incorrect, sending the trucks toward Springfield when in fact the fire was in Andover.

“We questioned the call on the way out,” said Fire Chief Matt Wilson, “but the dispatchers said it was ‘east.'”

Not finding a fire, the responding trucks zoomed back past the new building and their visitors and headed west to find that what was on fire was actually a burning brush pile located behind a barn. Seeing the rising smoke, a passing motorist had called it in.

Ironically, a visitor had, moments before the call, asked Wilson what was the plan in case of a call during the Open House. “We go,’ said Wilson.

The Proctorsville Fire Department sent two trucks to cover the station and enjoy the cookout while Chester responded. You can view the video of the firefighters leaving the building to the left.

‘Amazing turnout’

More than 100 people were on hand at any given moment to tour the building, watch police and fire demonstrations and grab a burger or a hot dog. Wilson, Police Chief Rick Cloud and Town Manager Julie Hance described the turnout as “amazing.”

Inside the fire station, the public got to see a number of offices and work rooms, furnishings and equipment  paid for by the fundraising of the Yosemite Engine Company, the tax exempt organization that supports the work of the fire department.

A comparison view of the old and new training rooms including containers to catch the roof leaks

In fact, in room after room — including the kitchen equipped “day room” and the large training room — all of the contents was donated by Yosemite.

“Every time you buy a hamburger (at the Chester Festival) or a Christmas tree,” said Deputy Chief Red McAllister, “100 percent of the profits go toward buying these things instead of using taxpayer money.”

The Fire Department’s phone app can show the location of every firefighter who signs on after a call

Among those items are a number of large flat screen monitors that  help firefighters map where they are going and where department members are in relation to the station.

On Friday morning, Wilson gave a visitor a demonstration. As Wilson turn on an application on his phone, his name appeared on the map showing him at the station.

This helps balance the need for personnel at a fire with getting there as quickly as possible

“If I’m ready to go (to a call) and I see that a firefighter is close to the station, I can wait a minute, to get them on the truck,” said Wilson. “But if (the firefighter) is on the way from Ludlow, I’m going to go.”

The training room can accommodate 50 people in a classroom setting and is expected to be used by all three services – police, fire and ambulance – in the future. Training for new EMTs is scheduled to take place starting in October and running through March.

The ambulance bay and police offices, holding cells and sally port were also open to visitors.

Demonstrations draw spectators

The Police and Fire departments put on demonstrations including a drug detection by Chief Richard Cloud’s dog Dutch who also performed the apprehension of a “decoy” who was played by Alicia White. Alicia and Dutch both received enthusiast applause from visitors.

The Fire Department used a construction lift to show how firefighters can rappel down to a hard-to-reach injured person and then lift them back up on a Stokes Basket.” Firefighters Mark Verespy, Jim Ravlin and Kim Haines participated in the demonstration.

New station makes a big difference

Bays in the town garage, pictured left, were tight with trucks parked against the walls between bay doors and more trucks parked out in the weather. In the new station, right, there’s room for everything.

In 2015, The Telegraph reported on the cramped and difficult conditions at the two-bay fire station in the Town Garage building. The lack of space made it difficult and time consuming to get trucks in and out since some had to park up against the wall that separated the bay doors.

The space was poorly lit, the roof leaked and new fire trucks had to be custom designed to fit into the short spaces. The truck known as Engine 1 cost an additional $50,000 even though the truck was shorter. The old station made drying hoses difficult and there wasn’t enough space for a proper laundry – which is important since firefighters pick up carcinogens from the smoke of synthetic materials used in so many houses.

Hoses waiting to be dried in the old space, hoses dried and put away in the new

In the new building by comparison, hoses can be dried simply by laying them out on the radiant heat of the floors. There’s a specific area for a washer for the turnout coats and pants and a washer-dryer for street clothes. Wilson is making it a rule that firefighters must keep a change of clothes to wear after returning from a fire and showering to get rid of contaminants.

These kinds of improvements are a “huge recruiting and retention tool” says Wilson, noting that on a recent night when severe storms were forecast, he was working in his office and heard several firefighters come in to hang out in the day room in case they were needed.

The department had 17 firefighters in 2015 compared with 24 today.

“Firefighting is a proud job,” said Wilson, “but it was hard to feel proud in (the old building.)”

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  1. Joan Wacker says:

    Thank you so much for the pictures. I waited so long for that day and then I wasn’t here. I’ll have to live it through the pictures. Except I didn’t get a hamburg!

    It all looks wonderful, a very long time coming to fruition, but I can see it looks like it’s everything they needed. So I give congratulations to all Police, Fire, and Rescue departments, and I hope it serves you well.

    Oh, and the write-up was spot on.

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