Fire Station Committee Demonstrates the Best of Volunteer Government
Demonstrating dedication and hard work, evaluating contrary ideas, leaving no detail unexamined, the work of the Center Fire Station Siting Committee shows that volunteer town government can effectively gather information needed to make good decisions-- decisions that will help us find the right path forward. The members of the committee are to be commended and thanked for their work.
But, no matter how well any committee does its work, conclusions need to be tested by a period of public questioning and examination, questioning that serves to strengthen the public's confidence in any committee's conclusions.
To us, the Lawrence Homestead site seemed to offer significant benefits, benefits primarily due to cost-saving and collaborative synergies of building on land contiguous to the Public Safety Building. Integrating all public safety services in a single campus would make resource sharing between Police, Fire and EMTs easy and natural, thus making duplication of many of the facilities and some of the services of each department unnecessary.
Unlike the town of Ayer, numerous Massachusetts towns have adopted a compact, integrated design model for their Public Safety infrastructure. Accordingly, it is a mystery to us why the Center Fire Station siting committee continues to tour and re-tour the Ayer fire station, a station that represents a less efficient, higher-cost model for the delivery of public safety services, as if, somehow, this is the best model for Groton. Why haven't some of the more innovative and adaptive public safety facilities in the area been toured? Why haven't the cost and service benefits of a single public safety campus been considered?
The Fire Station Design committee assumes gradual elimination of Groton's on-call fire fighting force, brave individuals with a tradition of service reaching back to Groton's founding, a cohesive and important social and service organization, gradually being consigned to the margins without any public debate or scrutiny, like a prize racehorse put out to pasture in its prime.
We believe Groton's on-call fire fighting force should be a key element in future fire fighting planning and strategy. Since volunteer fire fighters have served this town bravely and well for hundreds of years, it is ill-advised to surreptitiously re-organize on-call firefighting out of existence, instituting a full-time, paid professional force as somehow superior without a full, open and transparent public debate.
Because a 'Public Safety Campus' offers such clear benefits, we were surprised to learn the Committee's last minute change to recommending a separate site on the opposite side of the Lawrence Homestead field, effectively eviscerating the benefits of co-location. Apparently this last-minute change was made at the insistence of the Lawrence Homestead Trustees, being the only way the field could be subdivided so as to yield land for a fire station while preserving three buildable lots for the Trust.
The location, design and construction of new Fire fighting infrastructure is not a matter of simply conducting a technical needs analysis, a problem to be left only to experts and mutely paid for by taxpayers. Rather, these decisions should become a concrete expression of our essential convictions, our respect for each others' contribution to the greater good, our view of what the town can and should be.
Therefore, we hope Town Meeting will reject the article to purchase the Lawrence Homestead Trust land to allow for a period of additional public inquiry, an inquiry that will consider other options and encourage a wider range of views.