BP, M.D. – Health concerns over closing of Central Coventry Fire District

by Julia Harvey

In April, the town of Coventry, Rhode Island, agreed to loan the Coventry Fire District $300,000 in order to keep it operational for three more weeks after it was ordered to close due to insufficient funds. Three of the district’s five fire stations have already closed. The fate of the fire district was contingent upon the possibility of tax reform, which was put to a vote in March. After taxpayers overwhelmingly struck down a proposed increase in fire taxes, the court felt there was no other option than to mandate that the fire district be liquidated. Forty-five firefighters and the fire chief will lose their jobs.

The three weeks after the loan represent a critical window in which an alternative plan might be proposed in order to prevent the closure of the district entirely. Otherwise, the responsibilities of the fire district will turn over to neighboring towns. Public officials have expressed concern over the potential ramifications of this decision. Not only would this put a financial strain on neighboring towns, but the effectiveness of the emergency system would also be compromised.

Without a fire district, Coventry citizens may be faced with an additional 10 to 15 minutes in response time from firefighters coming from East Greenwich, West Warwick, or even farther. Once a fire is started, it will double in size every minute. Thousands of people across the country die every year from late responses to fires. Late responses not only have significant implications for the safety of those in need of emergency services but also for the firefighters themselves. A Boston Globe special report found that firefighters are more likely to die on the job if the response time is longer and if there are too few personnel on the scene. Firefighters worry that this is exactly the kind of situation created by the closing of the Central Coventry Fire District.

Across the country, fire departments are finding that they don’t have sufficient personnel or financial support. A six-minute response for 90 percent of fires is the standard set by the National Fire Protection Association. Over the last 20 years, the number of fire stations that have reported compliance with this standard has dropped by about 20 percent.

Some concerned citizens are looking to Gov. Lincoln Chafee to allocate state funds to help support the fire district or to request assistance from the National Guard. As of now, Chafee insists that this is a local issue and has not publicly endorsed any such assistance plan.


photo by Jason Rojas: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nothingbeatsaduck/2430568090/