Oak Bluffs cuts the ribbon on its new Fire/EMS station

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Flanked by Assistant Chief Manny Rose, left, and chairman of the selectmen Mike Santoro and selectman Walter Vail, right, Chief John Rose officially cuts the ribbon on the new Oak Bluffs fire station. — Photo by Sam Moore

A year to the day after construction began on the new Oak Bluffs Fire/EMS station, about 60 town officials, townspeople, and beaming members of the fire department and emergency medical services department gathered for the official opening and dedication of the Nelson W. Amaral Fire/EMS Station, at the corner of Wing and County Roads.

After years of working out of a drafty, rodent-riddled, outdated structure, the new 20,250-square-foot station, named after an Oak Bluffs fire department icon who served the department for 54 years and was chief for 34 of those years, was a welcome Christmas present for Oak Bluffs emergency responders.

Can-do spirit

The fire and EMS vehicles, including a new fire engine that arrived this summer, were polished to a spit shine and tucked into their new bays. No longer will the emergency responders have to leave vehicles outside in the snow and be faced with jumpstarting a battery to respond to a call.

There are two bedrooms downstairs and three bedrooms upstairs, a well-appointed kitchen, and a state-of-the-art training room big enough to hold Island-wide seminars. No longer will crews have to sit on blankets on cement floors for public safety and CPR courses.

With the new medical treatment room, people who come in off the street for help will no longer be treated at the station’s kitchen table.

With the new decontamination room, first responders can clean off the carcinogenic dust and soot that come with fighting a fire. It also means that EMTs and paramedics who respond to patients with highly contagious illnesses no longer have to drag the maladies home. Just weeks before moving into the new station, Chief Rose and two paramedics all contracted the virulent hantavirus within 24 hours of coming to the aid of an Oak Bluffs resident who was in the throes of the illness.

Safe room

Chief John Rose said he was personally invested in the addition of a “Safe Room” at the new station, located just inside the main entrance and open 24/7. It’s a place where a person fleeing a domestic violence situation can find refuge by entering the station and hitting a large red button that will lock the door behind him or her. Once activated, the button simultaneously calls 911 and alerts the personnel on duty at the station.

Particularly important to the the chief is how the safe room can function as a place where a parent who can no longer cope can leave their infant child, and know he or she will be safe.

“I really want the public to know that we have this,” he told The Times. “If someone wants to leave a baby, they hit the red button and exit before the door closes, and the baby will be protected in a climate-controlled environment.”
Chief Rose said his insistence on a safe room stemmed from a call he was on eight years ago.”A baby had been left abandoned on the steps of a church, “ he said. “The lawn sprinklers came on and soaked the baby, and he almost died of hypothermia. I just want our community to know they never have to do that here in Oak Bluffs. There’s always a safe place for them or their child.”

Thanks all around

“This building, a symbol of great architecture, doesn’t come close to showing you the dedication, the brotherhood, and the unselfishness that will go on inside these walls,” chairman of the selectmen Mike Santoro said at the ribbon cutting. Mr. Santoro is also the selectmen’s liaison with the fire department, and has met with them regularly over the past five years.

Selectman Walter Vail, the chairman of the fire station building committee, was a tireless proponent of the station. Mr. Vail gave kudos to project manager Joe Sullivan and general contractor John Scanlan for bringing the project in on time and on budget, despite the brutal winter of 2015.

Chief Rose commended town administrator Robert Whritenour for his steady guidance over the entire project. “The first thing we hit him with when he came here was ‘We need a new fire station,’ and Bob stood behind us the whole way.”

Mr. Whritenour previously collaborated on several projects with Mr. Scanlan, including a new fire station in Falmouth.

Chief Rose also praised highway department superintendent Richard Combra and his staff for letting the fire department take over the town highway barn during construction, which caused no small amount of inconvenience, and exposed highway department crews and equipment to the brutal winter of 2015.

“I would like to thank the taxpayers of Oak Bluffs, first and foremost, for their faith in our department,” Chief Rose said.

In April town elections in 2014, town voters approved the $8,288,000, debt exclusion to finance the new building by a scant six votes (421-415).

The new firefighting museum, named after Donald Billings, another stalwart of the OBFD, who served the department for 40 years, 20 years as chief, is still under construction, and will be completed by late April, Mr. Vail said.