CNC Hears of Engine 50 Opening, Ambulance Response Times

The Charlestown Neigh-borhood Council (CNC) met on Tuesday night, Feb. 5, and got a great piece of good news in that the Engine 50 rehabilitation project is soon to come to an end.

Tuesday night was an agenda heavy on public safety and planning updates to the CNC, but first up was the Fire Department and their announcement that Engine 50 on Winthrop Square would open in March.

“One issue I know that you have here is the Engine 50 station,” said Jack Dempsey of the Boston Fire Department. “That’s going to be opening at the end of next month. That’s the plan. They are on schedule too.”

Another issue regarding the Fire Department comes with the ramp up in work on the North Washington Street Bridge, and Dempsey said the Department is considering putting extra resources in Charlestown at peak periods during the construction period.

“Charlestown is like an island,” he said. “Everything is dependent on traffic at any given time. They’ll probably look at putting another piece of apparatus here at peak times, but that isn’t determined yet.”

•Boston EMS Chief Jim Hooley said that response times in Charlestown were on the increase, but have fallen over the last few years – most especially in the last year with the addition of a second ambulance in East Boston.

Charlestown has its own 24-hour dedication ambulance, A-15, which was part of the mitigation for the Big Dig some 30 years ago. However, Hooley said the shack that they are based out of on Main Street is getting tired, and call volumes are up in Charlestown. That caused response times to increase over the years by more than one minute, though new investments like the Eastie ambulance are helping.

In 2010, ambulance response times on average in the Town were 5:06 (five minutes and six seconds). In 2018 that was up to 6:30 – which is actually on the decline from nearly seven minutes in 2015.

“It’s gone up every year and it’s gone up every year citywide,” he said. “Call volumes also keep going up. We are now seeing a decline though from 2015, and at the same time the call volumes aren’t going down…We did add a new ambulance in East Boston last year. Response times there got a little better, but not as much as I’d hoped with a second team. However, response times did get better in Charlestown because of that. That’s because A-15 had to always go to East Boston to cover when the East Boston ambulance was making a transport. We are much less reliant on A-15 to pull it over to East Boston to cover now. We like that model.”

Citywide, there were 126,419 clinical incidents, and Charlestown accounted for 2,534 of those. Of those calls for service, 1,735 resulted in transports, which Hooley said was a pretty high ratio – noting that each time a transport occurs, it takes the A-15 out of the neighborhood and requires another ambulance to come over to cover – if available.

However A-15 still handled about 72 percent of those calls in 2018.

One piece of good news was that the responses for narcotic overdoses in Charlestown was pretty low compared to citywide. While there were 3,546 incidents citywide, Charlestown only accounted for 54 of those.

“That’s good because there is some pretty good recovery and outreach services at the health centers here,” he said.

•Former mayoral liaison Chris Breen also appeared to in his new role as a special project manager for the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA).

In one tidbit that will likely play big in the months to come, Breen said the agency will be pushing the potential creation of a modified Landmarks District in Charlestown.

“We are looking to preserve and protect the core of Charlestown,” he said. “I’ve been talking with the Preservation Society about the idea of creating a Landmarks District here. We’re also going to be taking a look at the ZBA from the top down to make sure zoning in Charlestown is working the way it’s supposed to be.”

Breen stressed as the BPDA goes forward they would “protect the core and look at the edges.”

That hearkens the conversation that has occurred over the last eight months regarding Hood Park and the height and density of development on the other side of Rutherford Avenue.

That conversation is one that Breen said they want to examine from a planning perspective – looking at the Rutherford corridor, Sullivan Square and the historically industrial areas that are now beginning to transform into residential/retail uses.

“The BPDA planners are so interested in Charlestown and there is so much potential here from a planning perspective,” he said. “We want to take all of the previous studies…and bring them into one big thought process.”

•CNC Chair Tom Cunha had a good report on the controversial one-way street review along the Medford Street and Bunker Hill Street corridors. Some resident have been clamoring for more streets going up the hill from Medford Street as now there are only two.

The Boston Transportation Department (BTD) initiated the process with some suggestions late last year, and Cunha said a CNC committee has been studying the issue since then.

He said there could be two streets, three streets or maybe four streets that change direction, but with the caveat that they would only be accessible to residents during rush hours.

“It could be two streets, three streets or maybe even four that change,” he said. “We’re looking at an idea that whatever streets get changed would have an exclusion at rush hour.”

He said such an arrangement once existed for Allston Street before it was changed.

That said, he stressed that nothing was going to be done without extensive conversations with neighbors. He asked CNC members to reach out to neighbors on each street and ask them to get involved and weigh in on possibly changing their direction.

He said they hoped to have a meeting, possibly an open house meeting with some suggestions. Once a plan is formulated, he said they would have a suggestion forwarded to the CNC for a public vote – fully transparent.

•Police Officer Bobby Longo appeared before the CNC as well, and one of the biggest issues was the idea of fully staffing the Charlestown station.

Longo said he wasn’t sure if there are plans to fully staff the station, but assured residents that it doesn’t mean they aren’t getting full police service.

Cunha said it’s important to remember there aren’t a lot of calls to 9-1-1 for the police, and that Charlestown has become the safest neighborhood in the city. As long as that is the case, he said, police contingents aren’t likely to increase here.

CNC member Ed Grace said maybe it was time to make noise like in the old days. “One idea may be to round up people like the old days and go to City Hall when the Council is in session and start screaming and making noise about this,” he said. “The City Council will listen. We have 14,000 people, 7,000 registered voters and only half of them vote. I think we need to make noise like we did in the old days on this one.”

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