The Bradford Fire Station is still closed. And despite a deal worked out between the firefighters' union and Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini earlier this month, it is questionable whether the station will actually reopen.
The decision is in the hands of the City Council, and some members have concerns about whether funding a reopening is best for the budget.
"It's not fiscally sound," City Councilor Louis T. Fossarelli said of the mayor's agreement for the Bradford station, which would serve the square-mile section of Haverhill that is home to about 10,000 people. "The solution that's on the table now was always available. We could have just thrown money at the problem."
If approved, Fiorentini's agreement with firefighters will cost the city about $188,000. In order to reopen the station, the mayor agreed to increase the minimum staffing in the Fire Department from 17 to 19 per shift citywide, a number that was reduced from 19 to 17 three years ago under former Mayor John J. Guerin. Haverhill has a central fire station and three satellite stations, including Bradford.
The two extra workers on each shift would be considered "floaters," who would move between the Bradford station and other locations as necessary.
Before the Bradford station closed about 10 months ago, if a firefighter was called to the Bradford station from another location, the city had to pay overtime simply for having to relocate during a shift.
Under the new agreement between the mayor and the union, the floaters would not receive overtime for moving between stations during a shift.
Fiorentini also agreed to a 2 percent salary raise for firefighters who have served more than 22 years.
The city is still in negotiations with firefighters about health care and other benefits.
The agreement to reopen Bradford has been brought to the City Council, which must keep it on file for 10 days before voting. Councilors will vote Oct. 5.
City Councilor David E. Hall, who served 39 years on the city's police force, has been a strong advocate of the mayor's plan. He said it is imperative that the Bradford station reopen because as of now, that area of the city, which he said includes senior housing that needs medical services, is not covered effectively.
There is currently only one bridge open to reach Bradford from downtown. The closest fire station is on Water Street, about a mile away. Officials say it increases response time to Bradford by several minutes.
"These stations were put in areas where they were needed," Hall said. "We're not providing adequate coverage."
Hall said the lack of overtime for floating firefighters should appease residents who have concerns about the city's expenses.
"I think the mayor and the firemen have done wonders," he said.
Fossarelli said he agrees that public safety should be a priority in the city. But he questions whether the new deal will only cost the city $188,000, which Fiorentini said could be raised through increased fees for building permits and smoke detector inspections.
Fossarelli asked what happens during vacation months when several firefighters might be away at the same time.
If the city needs more than two firefighters to get to the 19-person minimum, the overtime could pile up, he said.
"We're pumping overtime to the whole crew," he said.
Fiorentini said the city should commend the union for agreeing to cut overtime, which has crippled Haverhill's budget in the past in more than one department. Guerin cut the minimum staffing to 17 because overtime had reached the $1 million mark. That will not be a problem if overtime is not an issue, Fiorentini said.
"The idea that we gave the ship away is just plain wrong," Fiorentini said. "I think it sets that the right tone that we need to cut down on overtime."
Hall, who collected 480 signatures from residents who want the Bradford station to reopen, said the council should not allow debates about overtime to threaten the safety of residents.
"It's something that has to be done," he said.
The Oct. 5 City Council meeting will begin at 7 p.m. at City Hall.
Meredith Goldstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.