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Joint Lee and Stockbridge Fire and EMS working group underway

On May 18, Lee and Stockbridge working group members unanimously voted to hire JB Consulting Group to assemble a preliminary plan that would kickstart a possible merger of their fire and emergency services divisions.

Lee and Stockbridge — Following the joint meeting of their towns’ Select Boards in early March, Lee and Stockbridge working group members unanimously voted on May 18 to hire JB Consulting Group to assemble a preliminary plan that would kickstart a possible merger of their fire and emergency services divisions.

The consulting group is led by retired Hanover Fire Chief JB Blanchard, and the plan would include three phases of data collection for a total cost of around $30,000.

The first step in the process is estimated to cost $3,000 and would map the existing emergency response routes for individual departments, including those miles covered by current stations and staffing. The remaining phases would focus on predictive modeling, including analyzing response time and data should a station be eliminated or added in a certain location.

The working group is represented by individuals from both towns, including fire chiefs, town administrators, fire department volunteers, residents, and a member of the state’s Emergency Management Agency. It was formed to determine if a merger of departments is feasible.

Lee is creating a concept for a public safety administration building that would house its fire and police departments. The fire station in Lee was built in 1911—a sound building but not suitable for today’s larger fire trucks, Town Administrator Christopher Brittain said. The building next to the station is in disrepair and the police department is currently located in a cramped town hall, he said.

The proposal includes Stockbridge contributing to the cost of the new building and the two towns sharing fire and emergency management services in a regional agreement, a measure that would avoid duplicating those services. “Putting our resources together, we’ve got to decide if it’s better for each party and good for all,” Lee Fire Chief Ryan Brown said.

Brittain said that, originally, a downtown central fire station was contemplated. After considering response times, the space needed for the facility, and floodplain issues, however, the focus shifted to the Route 102 corridor, he said.

Brittain said he subsequently discussed the matter with Stockbridge Administrator Michael Canales at a town manager’s meeting, and the idea of a joint fire and emergency services system came up. Officials from both towns voiced concern over an aging population that may deplete the volunteer component of their divisions, and the alternative of a fully paid, professional staff would be an expensive crew. The group discussed the area’s lack of affordable housing as well as firefighter training as issues that may serve as deterrents to attracting new department members. Also, by combining forces, additional state funding may be available as a resource.

“I think one of the things we’ve concluded on is we need some professional help here to give us the data, to make us all understand what our options are, and then see if this is best,” Canales said. “And then, how do we approach it? Is it a phased-in approach over time?”

Blanchard will be asked to attend the next meeting, with that meeting date set on his availability. “If we commit to this, we need to take our time and do it right because there are a lot of people watching, not county-wide, statewide,” Brown said. “People have heard about this [merger], and they’re watching for a potential model that can help them out.”

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