The South Station of the Tewksbury Fire Department will be open again soon. However, it won't be open with nearly as much frequency as South Tewksbury residents would like.
The station, one of three in the town, has been closed since mid-March due to budget constraints. At the time, then-Fire Chief Richard Mackey said he expected the station to re-open in six months, budget and staffing permitting.
With the six-month mark just around the corner, Chief Mike Hazel said the station will re-open in the coming weeks but not on a full-time basis.
"Due to fiscal restraints we will be opening the South Station on a staffing availability basis," said Hazel. "In other words, if we have enough members on duty on a given day or night shift we will open the station.
"If we do not have enough members on duty due to contractually obligated or other time off reasons we will close the South Station and not expend money from our coverage account."
In the Fiscal Year 2012 Budget The Fire Department's operating budget was cut by $52,099, from $287,480 to $235,044. The total FY '12 budget for the department, including salaries, is $4,285,697.
Hazel said all three stations would also be open in cases of emergency and natural disasters. Such was the case during the recent tropical storm.
The made clear that he is neither content, nor happy with the current situation but that his department must do the best it can with the resources available.
"I truly believe the community needs three fully functional fire stations, unfortunately, funding is not currently available to make that happen for our department," he said. "We are working to provide the best possible service to the residents of Tewksbury given our present funding situation."
South Station be opened on a limited basis as soon as three newly hired firefighters are trained and ready to take on shifts.
During the times that South Station is closed, South Tewksbury will continue to be covered by units from the Central and North Stations. Hazel said his coverage account is present about 50 percent of what is needed to fully staff the three stations. He said that despite limited resources, he will do whatever is needed to maintain the safety of residents.
"Should our staffing fall below a predetermined safe level we will hire firefighters as needed to provide a minimum level of protection for firefighter and community safety," he said.
When all three stations are open, there are 12 firefighters on per shift. With three new hires, there are 51 employees in the department, including the chief and the department secretary. This is down from a high of 59 employees in the 1990s.
Though the operating budget has been trimmed, the department has been able to make necessary upgrades to its vehicle fleet recently. In 2010, voters approved a new engine (replacing a 26-year-old vehicle) and this year, Town Manager Richard Montuori approved replacing one of the town's two ambulances.