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Fire station on the outs?

Fear and Loathing in Waynesboro column by Chris Graham

Is Frank Lucente hedging on his pledge to back the voters’ wishes regarding a West End fire station? An indication that he might be comes from WHSV-TV3 reporter Keith Jones in his report on last night’s discussion of pre-emptive devices that could be used to improve response times for fire crews by getting them through busy intersections with traffic signals up to a minute quicker in some instances.

The report by Jones had Lucente on camera saying that the pre-emption devices would allow “fire trucks to go through the lights, clear out the intersections before they get there,” and cut 30 seconds to a minute off the response time in the process.

Then Jones came back on camera to report that “Lucente says funding another fire station just isn’t as cost-effective when firefighters can change the traffic signals.”

I’ll point out here that Lucente told The News Virginian for a story in its edition this morning that he will still back the voters’ wishes on the fire station. Waynesboro voters approved a bond issue for a new West End fire station in a referendum last year.

Pre-emptive signals, Lucente said, are “certainly something we could do to improve response time. That’s what the West End Fire Department was all about. It’s not to say we’re not going to do it, but the West End fire department only increases response time in 18 percent of the city, whereas this will increase response time in the entire city,” Lucente said.

That number, incidentally, sounds a bit dubious to me. City fire chief Charlie Scott disputes the figure that Lucente has long cited to buttress his case against the need for a new fire station in the West End as a misread of an analysis that Scott conducted himself.

So now maybe we have two signs that Lucente is trying to move us in a different direction than forward with the fire station. He’s pottymouthing the fire station’s value in improving response times, one, and two, he’s saying there’s a cheaper ($421,400 for the pre-emption devices, versus $2 million-plus for a new fire station) and more effective fix waiting in the wings.

Stay tuned, ladies and gents. Considering that we haven’t actually dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s on the bond issue yet, we could be in for something in the way of action on this front this summer and this fall.

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