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Fire Department considers service expansion

Date: 3/19/2015

EAST LONGMEADOW – The Fire Department hopes to expand its coverage of its firefighting force in the fiscal year 2016 (FY16) budget.

However, before an article comes to the Annual Town Meeting, the Fire Department is collecting resident input in the form of an online firefighter response time survey.

“One of my goals was to try and determine if the town was actually in favor of expanding the coverage, but also are they concerned with the department’s response time?” Fire Chief Paul Morrissette said.

Morrissette told Reminder Publications he submitted a supplemental budget request to the town to add extended coverage, which would include a career firefighter department seven days a week for 12 hours a day with four persons per shift.

The current staffing is the same as it was in 1974, he noted. There are seven full-time firefighters covering an 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. shift Monday through Friday, excluding holidays.

Morrissette said the proposed extended coverage would be Sunday through Saturday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., including holidays.

To accomplish the proposal, the Fire Department would need to hire one additional career firefighter, split the full-time firefighters in two groups of four firefighters, he added.

Morrissette said the Fire Department would also need to create a full-time captain’s position for the second group, allow for each group to work four days in a row, and pay each full-time firefighter on a 42-hour week based on a 28-day work cycle.

The FY16 budget increase for this extended firefighter coverage would be $65,405 plus an estimated cost of $4,326 to $10,802 for a new firefighter’s employee benefits, he noted. The increase is nine percent from the previous fiscal year and costs the average homeowner about $12 per year.

The current response times are four minutes during the day for 90 percent of the time, Morrissette said.

“Our most difficult time is again when we’re staffed with the call department,” he added. “Guys come from their house. They come from wherever they are; soccer games with their kids, their families. The call department is made up of everybody from the call firefighters and the career firefighters.”

Morrissette said he has concerns for the response times between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Typically it takes firefighters 11 to 12 minutes to respond during these times.

“Call firefighters are part-time and they get paid as they respond,” Morrissette said.

The Fire Department consists of seven career firefighters and 25 call firefighters with several anticipated to finish their training by the end of the month, he added.

The department’s responded to 535 incidents in FY14, Morrissette stated in a letter to the Appropriations Committee from Jan. 7. Forty-three percent of those incidents occurred while the Fire Department was staffed with full-time firefighters. 303 incidents, which equates to 57 percent, occurred while call firefighters were in operation.

“Last year, we had a fire at Springfield Springs,” he added. “It was a small fire and a quick response on our part. Again, it was less than a four-minute response. We were pretty fortunate. We’ve had fires at Milton Bradley at [2 a.m.] We do have some areas of concern in the town.”

Morrissette said in the past 35 years the town has grown to include more than 5,300 single-family homes, more than 150 condominium units, six elderly housing complexes, one independent living facility, two assisted living facilities, and three nursing homes. There are nearly 16,000 residents throughout East Longmeadow.

“Allowing the Fire Department to move forward with [this] proposal will increase the protection currently offered to the residents and property owners in the town,” he added. “The increase in the Fire Department’s budget over the two-year time frame of 15 percent allows the department to meet the four-minute initial response time to potentially 74 percent of all incident calls.”

Morrissette said the difference between a small fire and one that consumes an entire house is sometimes only a matter of several minutes.

Board of Selectmen Chair Paul Federici told Reminder Publications one issue that has arisen during the FY16 budget development season is the tax rate, which the town hopes to raise by roughly 45 cents.

“Based on the budget as presented, we have to cut like $700,000 from the budget in total,” he added.

Federici said despite the budgetary issues he is in favor of the increased coverage to the Fire Department.

“I think it’s a good idea,” he noted. “Obviously, the town’s growing [and] there’s more demands for safety. I think although the volunteer firefighter has worked very well in [the past], you get to the point where you want a little more coverage.”

To view the Fire Department response time survey visit