Fatal fire reignites concerns over New Bedford’s station blackouts

SE Mass

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WPRI) — Following Saturday night’s deadly fire, firefighters in New Bedford are rekindling their frustrations regarding the city’s station blackout policy.

When the fire ignited on the second floor of a Myrtle Street home, the closest station, Station 7, was not in service, according to New Bedford Firefighters Local 841 President Billy Sylvia.

“This one that was shut down could have been there within a minute — could have been less,” Sylvia explained.

Sylvia said the first crews to arrive were from other nearby stations and responded within three minutes. By that time, heavy smoke and flames were pouring from the building.

Since the first crew only had a ladder truck and did not have the resources to begin extinguishing the fire, Sylvia said they had to wait for an engine that did — which took four minutes to arrive on scene.

“Now you have a fire crew inside a building with no line to back them up — no water, no nothing,” Sylvia explained. “That inherently is the most dangerous job.”

While searching the building, firefighters found the victim, identified as Robert Seamans, 88, unresponsive on the second floor. He was transported to the hospital where he was later pronounced dead.

Sylvia believes that had Station 7 been open, crews may have been able to save Seamans’ life. He believes the station blackouts are putting residents’ lives at risk.

Sylvia said the city has been operating with blackouts — which began due to budget cuts and short staffing — for the past decade.

Local 841, according to Sylvia, has 207 firefighters. He said this isn’t nearly enough manpower to operate all 10 of the department’s trucks.

Despite Sylvia’s argument, a spokesperson for Mayor Jon Mitchell said the response time for the first crew was within the national standard.

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