Without grant money, Mass. town fire chief makes case for hiring more EMTs
The chief told a town board that the department has the funding to make the hires, which would help rebuild a depleted staff
Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass.
BREWSTER, Mass. — Brewster's Fire Department has filled four positions in recent years using funds from SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) courtesy of the Federal Emergency Management Administration. Fire Chief Robert Moran had planned to use one more SAFER grant to fill the last two positions in his staffing increase plan to add six firefighters. But this time around Brewster didn't get the grant.
Nevertheless, Moran told the select board recently that Brewster can still afford the additional personnel. The grants only cover two years of salary and are typically used as a bridge to allow revenues to build to cover the new positions.
"We did not get the SAFER grant but we do have funding in the budget for two additional EMTs," Moran said. "So at this point we have the ability to move forward."
The original plan was to use ambulance revenues to fund the two firefighter/paramedic spots financed through the previous SAFER grant once that grant ended in the 2020 budget. That would give the department 17 shift workers along with the deputy chief and Moran. But fortunately last spring voters approved an override to cover those two spots as well positions for the Council on Aging and Natural Resources Department so the department didn't have to tap ambulance reserves.
The next two slots would build the department to 19 staffers along with the two chiefs. Moran told the board he can now use those unspent ambulance reserves (thanks to the override) to cover the spots.
"With Millstone Road (affordable housing), Brewster Woods (more housing) and the potential for the reopening of the Wingate home (assisted living) we'll have more runs," Moran said. "The problem is at night. Most runs are from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. but we're making more runs at night (40 percent) where there is less career staff and more call firefighters. When I started in 2010 there were 12 staff firefighters and 36 call firefighters. In 2015 we had 16 career firefighters and 20 call firefighters. In 2019 we have 19 career firefighters and eight call firefighters."
The depletion of the call ranks is making it harder to cover the station at night. Moran said that in order to maintain service he really needs 24 staffers. He first needs to build the staff to 21. The two additional people will permit the night staff to rise to four, from three, with three paramedics and one EMT per shift.
Currently when the ambulance is out there is only one person at the station. A second ambulance run would require call personnel to come in.
Brewster also just lost a staff person to the Orleans F.D.
"That's because we can't offer him a 24-hour schedule," Moran said.
With 21 firefighters Moran could devise a stable 24-hour schedule of shifts that would make it easier to retain personnel as well as making more staff available for callbacks. Currently there are always three staffers available each day along with four other firefighters alternating on a four-days-on, four-days-off pattern. With 21 staffers only two firefighters would be on the 4/4 pattern, and with 24 available, the shifting schedules would vanish.
The department takes in around $921,000 from ambulance runs and current expenses are $687,000. The $234,000 surplus could cover the new positions. There is also a surplus account that contains $1,042,215.
The two new positions would cost around $150,000. In addition Moran will have to replace the departed firefighter.
Retirements of senior members of the department as well as the reduction in call staff has also freed up some funds to cover an Emergency Medical Services Officer spot for one of the existing staff.
©2019 Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass.