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WMECO move worries firefighters

Talks are planned

Recorder file photo
Utility trucks getting ready to restore power on Laurel and River Streets in Greenfield in 2011.

Recorder file photo Utility trucks getting ready to restore power on Laurel and River Streets in Greenfield in 2011.

Area fire chiefs are looking for a seat at the table as Western Massachusetts Electric Co. plans to withdraw its service arm from Franklin County.

WMECO plans to close its work center on Shelburne Road in Greenfield and base its Franklin County work force out of their Hadley center by the end of 2014.

Turners Falls Fire Chief Robert Escott Jr., a member of the Franklin County and Western Massachusetts fire chiefs associations, said departments are concerned.

“One of the concerns Franklin County chiefs had is that in the past the power companies have always been very open and very acceptable to having discussions about making things better,” Escott said. “We heard about this in the paper and it greatly affects emergency response, so we really wanted to have some dialogue.”

That will now happen, he said.

Both the Franklin County association and a sub-committee of the western Massachusetts association are arranging meetings with the power company, Escott said, with a Franklin County meeting likely in November.

Escott said the chiefs need to know more about the plans, such as whether all employees might begin taking the utility trucks home or only the on-call worker.

If a WMECO employee needs to drive from his or her home in central or northern Franklin County to retrieve a bucket truck from the Hadley station, about an hour each way in good weather, Escott said towns are looking at an hour addition to the response time.

The on-call utility worker might respond to the first incident in the usual time, but Escott said it is not uncommon for power problems to come in bunches of four or five as storms sweep through the county.

“That’s why we need dialogue with them. We need to know what they’re planning,” Escott said.

Workers based out of the Greenfield service center respond to power outages and to assist fire departments at the scene of fires and accidents, cutting power to burning houses or downed poles.

The Oct. 7 thunderstorms, for example, left a motorist trapped on Route 2 in a vehicle draped in downed power lines, a situation firefighters and WMECO crews worked for hours to address. The driver was ultimately freed unharmed from the potentially deadly situation.

WMECO employees have said that the on-call worker is not enough even for a single incident. The troubleshooter’s main responsibility is to make a situation safe, then call in others to repair downed wires, fix a broken pole or replace a transformer.

Area legislators have joined the company’s union employees in calling on management to reconsider the move.

You can reach Chris Curtis at:
ccurtis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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