Mass. fire union questions staffing level on Twitter
IAFF Local 1783 said the Amesbury Fire Department was "unable to respond" to a mutual aid request due to "staffing issues"
By Jim Sullivan
The Daily News of Newburyport
AMESBURY, Mass. — The city’s fire department was one of few in the area that didn’t respond to a house fire in Newbury on Wednesday night, but the reason for staying put depends on who is asked the question.
Units from the Newburyport, Rowley, Salisbury, West Newbury and East Kingston, New Hampshire, fire departments assisted the Newbury and Byfield departments in putting out a house fire at 23 Old Pine Island Road. The Massachusetts Department of Fire Services’ Rehab Unit also responded.
A mutual aid call also was put out to Amesbury but since the city is down to two functioning fire engines and with the other area fire departments headed to Newbury, Amesbury Deputy Fire Chief Jim Nolan said he “made the call not to join the other fire departments in providing mutual aid.
“Amesbury was down an engine and everyone else around was moving to the fire,” Nolan said. The third engine was removed from service for repairs two weeks ago.
The Twitter account for the International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 1783, however, told a different story Wednesday night, tweeting, “Newbury FD requested our engine to the scene of a working fire. Amesbury was unable to respond due to staffing issues.”
While he did not write the tweet himself, IAFF Local 1783 President Iain McGregor said he does approve of its message.
“I have been informed that we didn’t have enough staffing to maintain the necessary personnel in the city,” McGregor said. “It is pretty common for a municipality to refuse a mutual aid request when they don’t have adequate staffing in their own communities. That could be because there are multiple calls going on or if they don’t have the staffing during that shift to accommodate whatever the request is.”
McGregor said his department’s minimum staffing requirement has not changed since 1997 while the call volume has steadily risen to 4,300 calls a year.
“We have had the same minimum of six firefighters on duty per shift and we have increased our call volume by 47 percent ever since 1997,” McGregor said.
The last contract Local 1783 negotiated with the city was in July 2016 which, according to McGregor, still includes the six-firefighter minimum.
“We aren’t sending our apparatus to neighboring communities when they need help, mostly because we can’t even manage all of the calls we have in our community,” McGregor said.
The Merrimac and South Hampton fire departments had already responded to Amesbury to provide mutual aid while Nolan and his crew oversaw the annual Fourth of July fireworks at Woodsom Farm.
Having the other two departments in the city kept Amesbury adequately staffed for the entire night, Nolan said.
“They could have assisted Amesbury with any problems we might have had,” Nolan said.
While the decision still rests with Fire Chief Ken Berkenbush, McGregor said his union would like to see a minimum of eight or nine firefighters/paramedics working each shift.
“When you look at the statistics of other departments which have a similar call volume, they are at a 10- or 12-person shift,” McGregor said. “That is a big difference from where we are at at six. At a minimum, we want to see the minimum amount of people working every day increased.”
Copyright 2018 The Daily News of Newburyport