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Friday, August 18 News

Westport Fire study moving after delay, draft recommends additional staffing

WESTPORT — The town is taking the pulse of how it fights fires, studying everything from response time to staffing.

The final report will be delivered next week, according to Robert Finn, senior manager at Matrix Consulting Group, hired by the town for $67,500 to conduct the study. The report was originally expected months ago, but a first draft didn’t come in until late March.

The study lagged because of delays caused by coordination between consultants hired by the town, Fire Department Strategic Planning Steering Committee Chairman Bob Galan said. The committee asked Matrix to partner with an architecture and interior design firm, Lothrop Associates, hoping it would improve the results. But Finn said there was nothing unusual about the delay.

“It was just normal issues that arise during the course of a study,” he said. Finn declined to comment on the study’s content because it is not yet final.

The delay frustrated finance board members, who had hoped they could use it this budget season, though Galan noted the review of fire services isn’t specific to this year’s budget.

“We’re taking a much longer-term look for this thing,” he said.

The committee reviewed an initial draft of the study March 28, but expects significant changes in the final study. Members — including fire department and town officials — compiled feedback they sent to the consultants, asking for them to satisfy unmet objectives in the study’s request for proposal and conduct further analysis of data and findings.

The draft study recommends additional firefighter staffing at some of the fire department’s peripheral fire stations, among conclusions Galan said could change when consultants take a deeper dive into other parts of the study. The need for more staffing is based on the current firehouses, while the committee has asked for a further look at whether Westport needs to rebuild, expand or move any fire stations, he said.

Nick Marsan, Westport Uniformed Firefighters Association Local 1081 president and a fire inspector for the Westport Fire Department who saw the draft study through a Freedom of Information Act request, believes it is vital for firefighters and resident safety that staffing at Coleytown and Greens Farms stations increase.

With the average home size in Westport climbing and the growing use of lightweight construction materials, Marsan said, “fires burn faster and fires burn hotter and buildings collapse quicker.”

“The town has a responsibility to both ensure the residents’ safety, as well as the safety of the firefighters that respond to these calls,” he said, noting two firefighters are more limited than three in what they can do to fight a fire before additional engines respond minutes later. “The way materials burn today, minutes absolutely count.”

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Data in the initial draft shows all of Westport meets standard response times for a rural setting with current capabilities. Most, but not all, of the town meets suburban standards; Westport would be considered suburban.

Galan expects certain conclusions will not change from draft to final study, including its recommendation the fire department purchase a quint — short for quintuple combination pumper. The multipurpose engine and ladder truck would help properly reach houses raised after Superstorm Sandy. The committee will likely move forward with the process of requesting funding for a quint in the future, according to Galan.

The study evaluated the option of opening a joint station with the Fairfield Fire Department in Southport to improve certain Westport response times for calls, but found the station would not improve responses where they are slower, another conclusion expected to be final.

lweiss@hearstmediact.com; @LauraEWeiss16

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