HAVERHILL — When responding to a fire anywhere in Haverhill's 34 square miles, seconds matter. So when city councilors Tuesday learned that an overhaul of the Basiliere Bridge is not expected until 2024, that did not sit well with members of the local governing body — or public safety officials.
According to Fire Department representatives, response times to some areas of the Bradford section of the city may double if the bridge closes during repairs.
The department currently has two ladder trucks to serve the city, housed at its Water Street and Bradford stations, though only one — Ladder 4 — is able to traverse the Basiliere Bridge due to the bridge's weight limit. The other truck, Ladder 1, must loop around to the Comeau Bridge to respond to Bradford calls.
To explain the time crunch, Haverhill Fire Department Union Local 1011 President Tim Carroll uses the Crescent Yacht Club on Ferry Street as an example. With the bridge fully operational, Water Street's Engine 3 and Rescue 1 is able to respond to the Yacht Club in two to three minutes. Ladder 4 takes six to seven minutes to get to the Yacht Club after traveling over the Comeau Bridge, Carroll said.
Should the Basiliere Bridge close to traffic, Carroll believes residents of Bradford would be done a “disservice.”
“The traffic pattern with only one bridge would be crazy through downtown and cause major delays on our end,” he said.
At Tuesday's City Council meeting, councilors unanimously voted to send a letter to federal and state legislators, along with Haverhill engineering and Department Public Works officials, in the hopes that they can offer feedback and suggestions on how to possibly expedite renovations.
Councilor Tim Jordan, who lives in the Bradford section of the city, was among those to advocate for repairs as soon as possible — for the public's sake.
“Concrete's falling apart everywhere,” Jordan said. “I'm amazed that it's in such bad shape as it's in and we're rolling the dice with everyone's safety by pushing it to 2024.”
For his part, Fire Chief William Laliberty said he is willing to take whatever steps necessary to ensure the safety of his men and the city's residents as the renovation timetable approaches.
“The Haverhill Fire Department stands ready to protect the citizens of Haverhill,” Laliberty said. “We'll strive to be ready to respond, regardless of the conditions and take the necessary actions, should the Basiliere Bridge become condemned or if our use of it is restricted.”
In the event the bridge becomes off-limits, Laliberty said the department would fully staff the reserve ladder truck currently housed at the Bradford fire station or put another engine into service to be able to respond to all residents.
Fire trucks and other public safety vehicles are among the 35,000 carried daily across the Merrimack River from the Bradford section of the city into Haverhill across South Main Street (Route 125). Built in 1925, the bridge has been identified by the state as “structurally deficient” since at least 2009, according to Mayor James Fiorentini.