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Guest column/Pleasant Heights fire station important to entire city

September 25, 2011
By CARLO CAPALDI , The Herald-Star

I believe closing the fire station on Pleasant Heights is a mistake, and is an uninformed decision made for all the wrong reasons.

It is obvious that this station is important to the safety of the residents in the hilltop neighborhoods. The engine and crew of this station are the first response company for these neighborhoods along with Brady Estates and the Hollywood Shopping center. If this station is closed, it will take an additional two to three minutes for the North Street or West End engines to arrive.

This does not seem like a long time, but when you consider how fast a fire grows in two to three minutes, it can have serious consequences. It could be the difference between keeping a one-room fire from turning into a three-room fire. It could mean that the fire department contains the fire to the vacant house where it started, rather than it spreading to the occupied houses 4 feet away on either side.

What most people, and elected officials, do not realize is the importance of the Pleasant Heights station to the rest of the city. The crew and engine at this station are the second in company when there is a fire or emergency in any other location in the city. If there is a fire in the West End, this engine is the next engine to arrive on scene.

They could be used to hook a supply line up to a hydrant to provide a sufficient supply of water to extinguish the fire, or they could provide additional personnel to attempt a rescue or extinguish the fire.

Without this station, the crew on scene would have to wait an additional five or six minutes for the engine and crew from North Street to arrive.

The same is true for a fire in the downtown area of the city. Without this station, the North Street crew would be waiting an additional five or six minutes for the West End engine to arrive and provide additional resources and assistance. If this station is closed, the first in crew will have a choice to make knowing that it will take longer for the second in engine to arrive.

The first arriving officer will have to decide if he can extinguish the fire with the water contained on the truck (between 500 and 750 gallons) or will he have to take the additional time needed to hook a supply line up to a hydrant before starting to extinguish the fire, thus allowing the fire to grow larger and causing more damage. If this officer knows the second company will arrive in two or three minutes to set up a sufficient water supply to a hydrant, he can make an aggressive interior attack and hopefully limit the spread of the fire and the damage it causes.

If this station is closed, it will also enlarge the response areas of the remaining stations. This means that when a call comes in for a kitchen fire on Fairway Drive, the West End truck could be on another call as far away as the Brady Estates subdivision.

Larger territories equal longer response times, and longer response times jeopardize the safety of the citizens and the firefighters. Just because fire engines respond with lights and sirens it does not mean they can get from one end of the city to the other in record time. There are a lot of variables that could delay response to an emergency incident - heavy traffic, terrain, time of day, etc. Closing the Pleasant Heights station would add to these variables.

The justification for closing this station is centered around saving money. The truth is that closing this station saves less than $9,000 per year. The supposed savings come from laying off the firefighters who work at this station.

I contend that if this station is closed, more firefighters will be required at the remaining stations due to the delay in receiving help from a second in company. If required to respond from farther away, or with less manpower, the safety of the citizens and the safety of the firefighters will be reduced.

I felt the need to explain the importance of this station to the public because as of yet no one has sought out the advice of the fire department when evaluating the consequences this action would produce.

(Capaldi is secretary-treasurer of Steubenville Firefighters Local 228 and assistant chief of the city's fire department.)

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