By Marjorie Nesin
---- — “Where are they?!” Robert Jobe called out, as he waited for the ambulance crew.
Barbara Jobe recalls kneeling next to her husband at their Lanes Cove home last Sunday evening, checking his vital signs as he winced at the searing pain in his chest and left arm. A 911 dispatcher advised Barbara to remain calm as she waited a dragging 12 minutes for the ambulance to arrive from Central Station.
Though Robert was released from the hospital and recovering from the heart attack by Friday, “it was one scary night” for he and his wife, Barbara said Friday. Jobe’s heart rate reached 200 beats per minute at one point, more than double a healthy resting rate. His blood pressure spiked to 198/106.
Barbara stood in a state of disbelief, shocked at how long it could take for an ambulance to arrive at her home only a mile from Bay View Fire station that was staffed earlier in the day when she drove by. But that station was closed by the time heart attack symptoms rocked Robert out of bed around 9 p.m.
“Every time I’ve been to any meeting, I’ve gotten up, and I always bring up the fire station hours,” she said Friday. “I intend to be a thorn in the mayor’s side until this gets resolved.”
Now, just a week after signing the budget, some city councilors are second-guessing a contract and a budget that allows for more but not full station coverage at Bay View station in the new fiscal year, which begins Monday, while Mayor Carolyn Kirk emphasizes the full coverage that will come next fiscal year, beginning July 1, 2014.
City and fire officials have claimed that the department’s response time across the city’s 30 square miles is consistently less than 6 minutes more than 75 percent of the time, and 6 minutes is the response time cited in the city’s report from the national Insurance Services Office (ISO). The city’s ambulance corps is run through the Fire Department.
After hearing about the Jobes’ 12-minute wait, Councilor Bruce Tobey suggested that the council hold a special meeting Tuesday night to recommend the mayor reopen the station 24-7 until the new fire contract kicks in a year from Monday. He said he would also recommend that the city not sign any lease for additional city facilities — a reference to the city’s looking into leasing the former charter school — until fire stations are open all day every day. Councilor Greg Verga Friday echoed his call for a meeting.
Mayor Kirk said Friday that, while opening the Bay View station full-time “remains a goal and priority,” the city must continue working toward that goal in a planned and careful fashion. That is what the council agreed to in signing off on the fiscal 2014 budget, she said.
“The City Council just unanimously passed a budget in which we were very clear about the level of service that budget could provide,” Kirk said. “We can accelerate that by bringing additional money into the budget, but I think it’s best to have a dialogue with the City Council because they just voted the budget knowing full well the level of service.”
Kirk called Tobey’s cry for a special meeting a “publicity stunt,” and said the correlation between opening all stations full time and increased safety is not always linear.
“In some ways even having a fire station on every block doesn’t necessarily make you safer,: Kirk said. “We’ve had fatalities across the street from the (open) fire station,” she added, a reference to the tragic Lorraine Apartments fire in December 2007. “I don’t want to mislead anyone into thinking that it means they’re safer because (the station is) open. It’s a false sense of security, people need to understand that.”
In response to a letter from Jobe about her husband’s heart attack and the pair’s long wait, Tobey told Jobe station openings are a priority for councilors and he wants to see change now.
“I and several other councilors have banged the drum loudly for over a year now (and me most recently at the council meeting last week where we approved the FY14 budget) that we need to open the outstations 24-7,” Tobey wrote. “Sadly, it has gotten us nowhere.”
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.