By Kristina Rex

LAWRENCE (CBS) – The Lawrence fire chief wants to add 16 new members to his staff, and wants Columbia Gas to foot the bill.

Chief Brian Moriarty says the fire department has seen a significant increase in service calls since the gas explosions of September 13 that killed one and displaced thousands.

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Lawrence Fire Chief Brian Moriarty (WBZ-TV)

He estimates his department has experienced about 1,000 more calls for service in 2018 than in a typical year. “People are nervous,” he told WBZ. “They want to have their fears allayed. And I think the fire department helps to soothe those fears when we show up, we show in force, we show up rapidly.”

He says the calls aren’t all necessarily gas-related, but that people seem to be on high alert. “We go to a lot more calls that typically people would blow off,” he said. “They’re a lot more apprehensive and nervous.”

Firefighters in a bucket above flames that destroyed a Lawrence home after a gas explosion, Sept. 13, 2018. (WBZ-TV)

The solution to the increased calls, he says, is staffing. Moriarty wants to add a new engine company to the one fire station in South Lawrence, where the gas crisis took place. That would include one captain, three lieutenants, and twelve additional firefighters assigned to a spare ladder at the station.

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“Staffing makes a difference,” Moriarty said. “Not only do these big red shiny trucks make a difference, but the people on them, if you have the right number of people and the right pieces of equipment in place [make a difference].”

Moriarty has discussed the topic with Mayor Dan Rivera, and says he is in support of the proposal. The Mayor was not available for comment.

A gas explosion destroyed this home in Lawrence, Sept. 13, 2018. (WBZ-TV)

If Moriarty gets his wish, Columbia Gas would foot the estimated $1.1 million bill for the first year. After that, the department and city would analyze if the additional staff is still necessary. He has not formally discussed the proposal with Columbia Gas.

A spokesperson for Columbia said the company is “working with state and local officials to finalize a comprehensive plan for the next restoration phase.” He says the company appreciates the support from first responders and “welcome[s] the opportunity to discuss this issue in ongoing discussions with the fire chiefs.”

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When asked why he thinks the gas company should foot the bill, Chief Moriarty said, “because the gas company caused it. We didn’t cause the problem. We’re here to help, we covered the problem, we helped respond to the problem, we mitigated it. And now I think they owe it to the community.”

Kristina Rex