Does Southborough need an aerial ladder truck? What the numbers say

A fire last year caused extensive damage to this home on Deefroot Road. A ladder truck from Westborough was called in to assist.
A fire last year caused extensive damage to this home on Deefroot Road. A ladder truck from Westborough was called in to assist.

(This is part 2 in a series of posts about the proposal for a new aerial ladder truck in Southborough. For more information, see the series introduction.)

Yesterday I explained why an aerial ladder truck is important in firefighting. Basically, when responding to a fire in a two-story or greater building, having an aerial ladder truck means a faster response with less manpower, which in turn means less damage to property and less risk to human life.

But how many fires does Southborough have in buildings that are two stories or greater? That’s an interesting question.

There are 3,326 homes in Southborough, of which 71% are at least two stories tall. In addition, about 100 commercial buildings – including schools and churches – are two or more stories in height. So, for any given fire incident in Southborough, chances are good it’s going to be in a building that’s at least two stories tall.

In fact, the numbers bear this out. From January 1, 2004 through October 15, 2008, 70% of building fires in Southborough were in structures at least two stories tall. That means 70% of building fires required the use of a ladder truck. Compelling, right?

Here’s the rub. In that almost 5-year time period, there were only 89 building fires in Southborough. Limit that to fires in structures at least two stories in height and you’re talking 62 fires, or a little more than one per month.

That seems like a pretty small number, but Fire Chief John Mauro Jr. likens having a ladder truck to having car insurance. “Maybe that one time it makes the difference between getting in there and saving someone and not saving someone.”

But, at what seems like a relatively infrequent rate, couldn’t Southborough just rely on mutual aid from surrounding towns when we have a fire that needs a ladder truck? We’ll tackle that question tomorrow.

(In case you’re wondering, there have been fatal fires in Southborough, although fortunately, not frequently. The most recent was in 2002 when a woman died from burns suffered in a fire in her home on Vale Terrace. Other fatal fires include a 1983 blaze on Oak Hill Road and an 1972 fire on Bryden Road.)

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14 years ago

I am sure there will be numerous opinions on this subject, so allow me to add my 2 cents: There are public safety professionals who work with agencies such as ISO, NFPA, and others, to determine what the needs are for firefighting. Just this once, let’s let them do what they have to do. It’s like health insurance; you don’t get concerned about it until the day YOU need it.

14 years ago

Have we been evaluated by these public safety professionals to determine whether we need a ladder thruck? I would be interested to know what an outside authority would say about our need for a ladder truck.

14 years ago

Can we really put a price tag on life?

14 years ago

The answer is that we shouldn’t, but times are tough and opinions are skewed. Do we really need to spend CPA funds to spruce up the Triangle? Not now, but we will. Do we need to bury the lines on Main Street? That will only benefit those folks who liveor work there. A Quint (engine/ladder truck) will be there for everyone, will consolidate the fleet by eliminating two other expensive pieces of apparatus, and assuredly is a factor in helping to keep insurance rates down. The faster and more safely firefighters can perform their jobs, the better the outcome for residents and property owners. To answer Rebecca, NO, you really can’t put a price on life.

14 years ago

Hopkinton has some sort of agreement with Ashland. The problem is, the pitfalls are the same. If the mutual aid department is tied up, or the ladder is out of service, or whatever, you don’t get one. Plain and simple.

Are there any true answers to the dilemma? As one of the most tight fisted states in the country, I doubt it.

Bill Smilick
14 years ago

Hopkinton does have a ladder truck they have Milford’s old one.

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