Legislation that is expected to gain final House and Senate passage this week is being viewed by Mayor Scott Avedisian and East Greenwich Town Manager William Sequino as a door for greater cooperation between their fire departments. The measure that gained East Greenwich voter approval last Nov. 6 enables the town of East Greenwich to acquire the East Greenwich Fire District. The district was created by charter in 1797 apart from the town.
The town would acquire the property, assets and personnel of the district along with the liability of its pension plan, contracts and debts. With the dissolution of the district, East Greenwich property owners would no longer receive tax bills from the District, but would see an increase in town taxes as fire protection and rescue service become the responsibility of the town.
Simultaneously, with City Council approval of bonding earlier this month, Warwick is moving ahead with plans to demolish the Potowomut School building and build a two-bay 6,000-square foot fire station on the site. Currently, Potowomut fire protection is provided under a $350,000 contract with the district. For several years now, the Warwick Fire Department was also responding to fires.
The new station, which Warwick Fire Chief Edmund Armstrong wants to have up and operating by this time next year, would house one of the two engine companies currently housed in the station next to Aldrich Junior High School in Norwood. As the engine company is already a part of the city’s fire department, and added personnel and equipment would not be needed, the new station is not impacting the city budget while it improves service to Potowomut. The money saved ending the contract with the East Greenwich District would more than offset the debt service for the $2 million bond.
Meanwhile, East Greenwich, which operates stations on Main Street and Frenchtown Road, is exploring the possibility of relocating its Main Street station to the intersection of Post Road and Cedar Street. That project has been delayed by the archaeological discovery of Native American relics on the property, including a human skull.
If East Greenwich moved the Main Street station into the area of the proposed site, it could put two new stations within an eighth of a mile of each other.
Could a single station, whether in Warwick or East Greenwich, serve both communities?
“We haven’t had that discussion,” Sequino said in a telephone interview Friday. He said, with cooperation between the two departments, he sees possibilities for greater efficiencies and “maybe better service.”
Likewise, Avedisian finds it premature to speculate how the two departments might work together.
In an e-mail he said, “We have not had any substantive conversations yet as the legislation has not yet been enacted. If it is passed, Bill [Sequino] and I will explore any and all possibilities.”
At the minimum, Sequino is looking to reopen talks of Warwick assuming dispatch duties for East Greenwich to free up four firefighters presently performing that job. Warwick and East Greenwich explored doing that several years ago, with the tradeoff being a reduction in the district contract providing Potowomut coverage. Both departments have been silent on why that proposal was dropped.
Earlier this year, Avedisian said he has a good working relationship with Sequino and that, with the town running the department, he sees the opportunity for improved cooperation.
About 75 percent of all calls are for rescue service. Warwick dispatches an engine and a rescue to these calls, putting four personnel at the scene. All Warwick firefighters are trained emergency medical technicians, or EMTs.
In the case of Potowomut, the plan on rescue calls would be to dispatch the engine company, which would probably arrive at the scene first, and a rescue from the Warwick station on Cowesett Road.
According to East Greenwich Fire District Deputy Chief Russell McGillivray, the district responded to 278 calls from Potowomut and Bayridge between July 1, 2012 to May 1 of this year.