Climate Resilience & Public Safety: An Interview with Devens Fire Chief


Cover image caption: MassDevelopment hosted federal, state, and military leaders for a walk-through of the future Devens public safety building. Participants included MassDevelopment President and CEO Dan Rivera, State Senator John Cronin, State Representative Dan Sena, a representative from the Office of Congresswoman Lori Trahan, Keith M. Jackson, Deputy to the Garrison Commander at the Devens Reserve Forces Training Area, and staff from MassDevelopment’s Devens Operations and Real Estate divisions.

Neil Angus, Director of the Devens Enterprise Commission, interviewed Devens Fire Chief and Public Safety Officer Tim Kelly to discuss local climate resilience and public safety initiatives.

But before we get to the interview, you may be wondering...

What is climate resilience?

Excellent question!

“Resilience” is a term often used in discussing climate change actions. Climate change resilience is the ability of a community to adapt and thrive in the face of extreme shocks and stresses. Resilient communities anticipate risks, plan to limit their impacts and adopt strategies that integrate all community systems – civic, environmental, social and economic – to mitigate and support recovery from extreme events while maintaining quality of life.

Climate change is bringing shocks and stresses like hotter days and more intense storms. From an increased risk of heat-related illnesses and vector-borne diseases to blocked roadways, these impacts have an effect on our community's public health and safety. That’s why it is vital for communities like Devens to build climate resilience.

Interview With Devens Public Safety Officer and Fire Chief Tim Kelly 9/13/23

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

What is your role, both as Fire Chief and Director of Public Safety, in building/maintaining climate resilience in Devens?

The Devens Fire Department is responsible for providing emergency services to all residents and businesses in Devens and assists with mutual aid and support in the surrounding towns. We prepare for and respond to all emergencies – both natural and human-caused. We have currently applied for grant funding to update the Devens Hazard Mitigation Plan to address the changing climate and the uncertainties that come with that. Once this plan is updated we will be even better prepared to assist with and mitigate the effects the changing weather is having on Devens.

How important is regional collaboration for building climate resilience?

Regional collaboration is a critical component of public safety. In addition to the mutual aid and support with the surrounding towns, we also work with our regional partners in Leominster, Fitchburg, and Westminster on emergency preparedness and important issues unique to our towns like railroad safety. The fact that Devens is located within portions of two separate fire Districts (Middlesex County District 6 and North Worcester County District 8) underlines the importance of regional collaboration and communication.

What are some of the major climate impacts/hazards we face in Devens?

The changes in weather are our greatest challenge. More frequent and intense storm events create multiple issues with property damage, flooding, and access. Changing weather patterns are resulting in less snow and more ice that can create challenging commuting conditions and have a greater impact on our roads and utility infrastructure.

How will the new Devens Public Safety building help?

The new public safety building will be centrally located in Devens at 270 Barnum Road and will have all Devens emergency services (E-911, State Police, and Fire) in the same location which will help with safety, coordination, and support. The additional space will help the Devens Fire Department better organize and maintain their emergency service vehicles and equipment and provide firefighters with additional facilities to assist in their ongoing training. The building will include “green” features like improved insulation for reduced energy demand and consumption, as well as solar panels that will generate clean energy. These features will help improve the resiliency of the building, enabling it to remain operational for extended periods without power, while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving indoor air quality – providing a healthier building for our first responders. The project will be pursuing USGBC LEED green building certification as well.

What are some practical public safety tips for residents, both general and climate hazard related?

Preparation and Planning are the two most important things we can do to respond to climate related hazards. Have two days worth of food and water per person stored away for an emergency. You should plan on two gallons of water per person per day. Make sure you have spare medications and pet food for your animals as they are part of the family also. Have copies of all important documents stored in a weathertight place. Have a plan on where your family should meet away from your home in case you are separated by a storm and cannot get home, like a relative’s home in another part of the state.

Residents and businesses in Devens should keep informed by signing up for Onsolve CodeRED alerts, a notification system to receive important alerts. Registered users can customize and choose the types of updates they want to receive:

  • CodeRED/Emergency: Safety and response readiness to critical situations.
  • Community Events & Public Meetings: Notifications regarding public meetings and community events held in Devens.
  • Public Works: Notifications regarding road closures, detours, snow emergencies, and road construction updates.
  • Utilities: Notifications regarding power outages, hydrant flushing, and pertinent utility updates. Register online at: , or text “devens” to 24639. Contact Karen Davis at (978) 784-2933 with any questions. 

Looking for more ways to take action around climate resilience and public safety? Check out the Public Health and Safety tile here on the Devens Forward dashboard!

Note: The Devens Enterprise Commission has identified the types of natural hazards that our region is expected to experience as a result of climate change through our Community Resilience Building Workshop Report in 2018. Both our Climate Action Plan in 2020 and Apple Country Nature-Based Solutions project contain numerous strategies to assist with improving public health and safety in Devens in the face of a changing climate. All of these documents will prove to be valuable resources for updating the Devens Hazard Mitigation Plan.