Wellesley Fire makes shift to online permitting; more N95 masks available

When I recently contacted the Wellesley Fire Department to pull a burn permit for this year I didn’t make my usual stop at the Rte. 9 station. And while I missed exchanging pleasantries, it took me all of 3 minutes to secure the permit online thanks to a new cloud-based software system adopted by the fire department.

The Fire Department’s system uses the same technology that the town’s building department has been using to make interactions with the public more efficient, and that’s how Deputy Fire Chief Steve Mortarelli became familiar with it a couple of years back. He described the Fire Department’s transition to the software, with plenty of help from the town’s IT department, at a recent Select Board meeting (about 5 minutes into the Wellesley Media recording).

Mortarelli says adoption of the technology in mid-2021 has made a huge difference in the town’s fire prevention process, which entails permits, inspections, and plan reviews. Among the big benefits is that payments can be made online.

Permits are required by any contractor modifying a sprinkler system or fire alarm, doing welding, or wanting to blast, needs a permit. Traditionally, they would have to head down to the fire department, hope the right contact was there, fill out paperwork, etc. “Did it work, yes it worked. Was it efficient, no, it certainly was not,” Mortarelli said.

Plan reviews required a similar paper-heavy process that included plenty of back and forth.  Fire inspections for properties being sold also could be a painfully slow process, with sellers not necessarily understanding all the codes, and fire inspectors needing to make multiple trips depending upon the seller’s preparedness. “What I found is that we were constantly reciting the code over and over,” Mortarelli said, referring to the 26F inspection process.

Those requiring permits can now get things started at the town’s website in the Permits & Licensing section,  which lists available permits and includes lists of requirements based on the age of your house and other factors. “This takes the dialogue out of it,” Mortarelli told the Select Board, adding that he’ll typically reply to application submissions the same day they are received. “The number of phone calls has really declined.”

The number of permits that the fire department deals with is about the same, but the efficiency of handling and tracking them has improved greatly, Mortarelli says. There used to be lines out the door at the station at lunchtime, or when contractors had breaks in their schedule and could swing by.

“Instead of a contractor making several trips to the fire station simply to obtain one permit or have one set of plans reviewed, it is now performed remotely online,” Mortarelli told us via email.  “There are no longer any hard copies to keep track of as all permits, plan review notes, and correspondence is tracked [online].”

The Deputy Chief adds: “The new system forces all parties involved to be better managers as it removes the chance for human error. ”

A good example of this, he says, is the addition of a “Rough inspection” step. “Previously, contractors would often forget to call for a rough inspection so if there was an issue it would not be noticed until the final inspection.  Now, the system doesn’t allow a contractor to move forward through the workflow until the “Rough inspection’ step is completed,” he says

To date, Mortarelli says the fire department hasn’t had any people contact it because they can’t figure out the system. “I honestly thought it was going to be a pretty big learning curve because we’ve had that old system in place for quite some time and there are a lot of different brokers that come into the town to sell real estate,” he told the Select Board. “But the word got around very quick. Very rarely do I receive a phone call of having somebody ask me ‘Can we set up an inspection?’ They know now just to go online to apply for it…”

If anyone does have trouble, though, they’re welcome to get answers the old fashioned way: By phone or in person.

More N95 masks being distributed

The Community Fund for Wellesley has awarded the Wellesley Fire Department with a new grant to resupply the town’s most vulnerable residents with an infusion of 4,500 additional N95 masks to protect them against the COVID-19 virus. 

Firefighters will go directly to residents’ homes to deliver the masks and make sure they are properly fitted. Eligible residents, including seniors and those with medical conditions, can also request to pick up their mask at Fire Department headquarters on Route 9 (457 Worcester St.). To request an N95 mask, call the Fire Department nonemergency line at 7812351300.

wellesley firefighters
Pictured left to right: Deputy Fire Chief/Inspector Steve Mortarelli, Firefighter Scott Smith, Community Fund for Wellesley Board Chair Michael Stevens, Fund Board Member Wendy Paul, Fire Chief Rick DeLorie, Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Peterson, and EMS Coordinator Lieutenant Dana Gerrans (photo courtesy of Town of Wellesley)

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