Chilmark fire chief sees danger in poor road signage

Tuesday night, Chilmark Fire Chief David Norton (foreground) and the selectmen's liaison to the fire department, Don Leopold (background), informed the board of the need to improve road signs and house numbers. - Rich Saltzberg

Chilmark is known for rustic and artsy roads signs and house numbers. For first responders, more often than not, it’s not a good thing, Fire Chief David Norton told the selectmen Tuesday night.

Norton, along with selectmen’s liaison to the fire department Don Leopold, informed the board they are about to embark on a plan to upgrade signs in Chilmark as a matter of public safety.

Norton said in many private roads are not labeled well or at all. Numbers can be on the wrong side of the road or out of sequence, a real problem for fire and EMS crews, he said.

GPS cannot always be relied on and that lack of clear signs and numbers in certain areas was something Aquinnah also wrestles with, he said.

Aquinnah Fire Chief Simon Bollin later told The Times his town does indeed struggle with similar problems. Beach stairs pose a special problem, he said, because often a 911 caller cannot provide a clear description of where they are on a given beach and first responders can easily be baffled by beach stairs and paths with little difference in appearance from one to the next.  

“We tried for years to get the beach access numbered,” he said. Privacy concerns by property owners have thus far trumped the need to identify a distress locus, he said.

Norton and Leopold said they will start by first sizing up how many homes and roads in Chilmark are in need of improved numbering and signs. The chief said he is weighing the idea of simply making signs and numbers and putting them up if folks drag their heels on the matter.

“Let’s do something with proper notice,” selectmen chairman Jim Malkin said, “because we will have some people who will find this less than lovely.”

In other business, the board unanimously approved Josh and Angela Aronie’s food truck for another winter in Menemsha. The approval was contingent on board of health approval of the operation.

“The food truck is a great asset to the town and lots of people really appreciate it so we hope that it’s a success again,” selectman Warren Doty said.

The board also voted unanimously to appoint artist Margaret Emerson to the Martha’s Vineyard Cultural Council.