Chilmark fire engine damaged on narrow road

Selectmen hear grim climate change predictions.

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Chilmark Fire Chief Jeremy Bradshaw told the board many some private roads in Chilmark are too narrow for fire apparatus.

A Chilmark fire truck took about $800 worth of damage during a drill on Stonewall Road on Sept. 9. Chilmark Fire Chief Jeremy Bradshaw told Chilmark selectmen Tuesday evening a branch caused the damage. Bradshaw said the branch was indicative of an overgrowth problem on Stonewall and other private roads in Chilmark. 

“We really have to get our roads widened up,” he said.

Bradshaw told the board he plans to share information with homeowner and road associations indicating vegetation must be cut back to maintain a width of 14 feet and a height of 15 feet on all Chilmark roads. 

Chilmark Deputy Fire Chief Tim Carroll later told The Times the drill took place at a house owned, or previously owned, by the daughter of the late Doris Day. The structure was slated for demolition, and was offered for use as a training site for Chilmark firefighters. Carroll described the road to the house as “very rural,” and too narrow for vehicles to pass. 

If it had been a real response, Bradshaw said of damage, “it could have been a lot worse.”

After the meeting, Bradshaw showed The Times damage points on the truck, Pumper 122, where the branch bent a mirror, sheared off ladder mounts, and twisted fold-down steps. 

During the meeting, Bradshaw told the board Quansoo was hands-down the worst passage for fire apparatus in Chilmark. “That’s all overgrown now, so we can’t get our apparatus down the road,” he said. 

“There’s got to be a way to penalize some homeowners’ associations,” selectman Bill Rossi said.

Bradshaw asked the selectmen if town regulations could be amended so that damage to Chilmark fire apparatus by inadequately trimmed trees and brushes could be billed to the relevant road association or homeowners’ association.

“I think that’s perfectly fine,” selectman Jim Malkin said. “I think you should tell residents who want to rely on your services that this is what they have to do.”

Rossi told Bradshaw he shouldn’t be asking associations to comply with width and height parameters, he should be ordering them to comply. 

Bradshaw said he and Assistant Fire Chief Gary Robinson have been drafting a map to show all the areas in Chilmark that fire apparatus has trouble passing through, and all the roads and homes missing signage necessary to guide emergency response.

Rossi said he would like signage requirements folded into building permit criteria.

Don Wertlieb, president of the Quansoo Beach Association and a member of the Quansoo Road Association, later told The Times he was confident homeowners would be willing to talk to the fire department about the issue of overgrowth. “I’m sure they’d be fruitful discussions,” Wertleib said.

Road association president Alyssa Emden couldn’t be reached for comment, nor could Richard Couch, a manger for Stonewall Beach Association, LLC. 

Adam Moore, executive director for Sheriff’s Meadow, who lives in Quansoo at a Sheriff’s Meadow property, said the road there is “very, very old,” and not actually owned by the road association but by those who abut the road. Therefore, he said, it’s up to those landowners to trim what they own. For the section Sheriff’s Meadow owns, Moore said, a trim is expected to take place soon. 

In other business, Chilmark finance advisory committee member Rob Hannemann and Martha’s Vineyard Commission member Joan Malkin spoke on behalf of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission Task Force for Climate Change and Island Climate Action Network in regard to threats both Chilmark and the Vineyard as a whole face from climate change. More flooding, fires, and ticks were among the dangers ahead, they said. Menemsha is expected to see impactful mean-water-level changes, as is Vineyard Haven, the primary Island port for the Steamship Authority, they said. The area of Quitsa Landing was of special concern, they said, as it could wash through permanently, and cut off the western part of Chilmark, as well as Aquinnah. Malkin pointed out some $12 million in grant money is on offer from the state to help municipalities adapt to climate change effects, however regional applications “will be much more favorably entertained.” 

Hanneman warned that Vineyarders cannot afford to be passive on climate change, that it’s happening at a quicker pace than previously predicted, and that temperatures and sea levels have already crept higher than past models showed.