Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Hidden Cost of Higher Education

 Amherst College (named after the town, not the General)

In addition to the $491,364 Amherst College paid the town last year in property taxes for faculty housing, Lord Jeff Inn and Amherst Golf Course --making them Amherst's number #1 taxpayer-- AC also voluntarily donated $90,000 Payment In Lieu Of Taxes specifically for fire/ambulance protection.

Last year AFD responded to the campus 180 times (58 fire, 122 EMS), or an average of $500 reimbursement per run. 

UMass pays the town $325,000 PILOT under a 5 year strategic agreement that expired July 1st, but was e-x-t-e-n-d-e-d for one year because UMass was once again playing musical chairs with its leadership and the new Chancellor just started only this summer.  Last year AFD responded to the campus 915 times (234 fire, 681 EMS), or an average of $355 reimbursement per run.

 Hampshire College

Hampshire College, one of the most expensive schools in the country and the town's third largest landowner, required 178 AFD runs last year (107 fire, 71 EMS) and paid the town zero for PILOT, or an average of zero per run.  Yes, I said zero.

The town of Amherst required 3,189 AFD runs (956 fire, 2233 EMS) and paid $4 million in taxes to fund the entire department, or $1,254 reimbursement per run.  And yes, insurance receipts for ambulance runs totaled $2 million so the net cost to taxpayers is cut in half--but that still works out to $627 cost per run.

After 20 years of discussion the town is finally getting serious about building a new fire station in South Amherst to bring better response time to deep South Amherst, including Hampshire College and any new development that springs up around the Atkins Corner reconstruction (if it ever finishes).

The new fire station will not be cheap, $10 million minimum, and will require an increase in staffing, also not cheap.  Currently however, AFD is understaffed and Central Fire Station is falling apart.  All of this will be expensive.

But one way or the other we're going to pay:  either in actual dollars now, or an unforgettable tragedy in the near future.  

Thus, everyone who benefits --and everyone will benefit-- should pay their fair share.  If all the non profits on this list simply paid the $500/run Amherst College paid (and in this current year they are contributing $92,000, so reimbursement per run may actually go up slightly) it would have amounted to an additional $332,675 this past year.  And that's real money!

Tale of the Tape:

Hampshire College 178 runs @ $500/per equals $89,000
UMass Fraternities & Sororities 86 runs equals $43,000
Sunbridge Care & Rehab in Hadley 136 runs equals $68,000
UMass campus extra $145/run for 915 runs equals $132,675

AFD Annual Report Fy12


Anonymous said...

The colleges and universities have no right to pay the the Town of Amherst for ems and fire services that is a essential town service. The Town of Amherst needs to get off of there backsides and spend money where it needs to be spent. Also the increase in staffing is something that is not needed or can not be justified the town has a Call and Student force put them to work like every other surrounding cities and town. The majority of the fire service is call and volunteer the town has these resources and they need to be used instead of not being used than the problem is solved.

Anonymous said...

wow, stupid uneducated comment of the year goes to the above poster. Educate yourself and pay attention before you post...

Anonymous said...

you can google these words and you'll find their proper usages:

"there" "their" "they're"


"then" "than"

Anonymous said...

Yup, stupid post of the year goes to Anon 10:31 pm. Must be a student. Who is supposed to pay for this stuff? Oh yeah, socialism, a good idea til other people's money runs out.

Anonymous said...

I would agree have to agree that the first comment in this thread is utterly ridiculous. If my anonymous friend had understood what they were reading, he or she would have seen that the colleges are the largest land owners in our community and as nonprofit institutions they DO NOT PAY ANY TAXES on the majority of their property. While it is true that many of communities in the commonwealth utilize on-call and/or volunteer personnel for fire protection and EMS coverage, few if any of them have a population the size of Amherst or a call volume like ours. Even in small communities with few responses a lack of full time fire protection can and does lead to significant loss. Just ask our friends up in Rowe who are trying to figure out how to replace an elementary school. We do indeed have on-call and student volunteer members of the Amherst Fire Department, and they are used in an appropriate manner. These men and women are valued members of our department and our community and play an important role in how we do business. However, in general volunteer and on-call members have different training and experience levels than our full time members in both firefighting and ems. The greatest example of this is that the majority of or fulltime firefighters are paramedics. None of our on-call or volunteer staff are trained to this level. To suggest that we are not understaffed because of the presence of our on-call and volunteer members is simply ignorant. Do some checking and you will be hard pressed to find another community with our population (I mean the actual population during the school year) and call volume that has a staffing level as low as ours. You will also have a difficult time finding a department that as a matter of practice sends a single engine with 3 firefighters to alarms in a 22 story occupied residential high-rise building. As Larry suggests, our staffing level is dangerously low. The on-call and volunteer members make a valuable contribution, but they cannot make up for this low staffing level.

Jeffrey Parr
Amherst Firefighters
IAFF Local 1764

Adam Sweet said...

Maybe the FD should change their criteria for responding to a call? 178 runs to Hampshire College? Are these ambulance calls? Obviously not fire related.

Larry Kelley said...

They can't change their criteria. If an alarm goes off, they have to respond.

The majority of calls are for fire, which is probably a lot more work, wear-and-tear than EMS.

Certainly a firetruck uses more fuel than an ambulance. And I believe if a firetruck goes somewhere they take an ambulance with them.

Anonymous said...

They send a firetruck and an ambulance when they do inspections.

Anonymous said...

If I am right the town of Amherst has a combination fire department like other places in the united states volunteer and career firefighters both responsed to calls together. My question is why does the the town not do this? It works for them.

Anonymous said...

"They send a firetruck and an ambulance when they do inspections."

Yes, in fact we do sometimes send both an engine and ambulance to inspections. The reason for this once again comes down to staffing. Due to the understaffed condition of the fire department we are forced to cross staff our engines and ambulances. This means that when I report in for my shift I am assigned a riding position on the engine AND a spot on an ambulance. If we were to leave either the engine or the ambulance in the firehouse while conducting an inspection we run the risk of not having the right equipment with us. This would result in having to shuttle personnel back to the station to retrieve the needed vehicle and equipment and would cause a delay in responding to YOUR emergency.

Additionally, life safety inspections in public buildings serve to familiarize firefighters with those buildings and their hazards. This is why the entire crew participates.

Jeff Parr
Amherst Firefighters
IAFF Local 1764

Anonymous said...

Screw your union talk. Get rid of the unions and use the dues to hire more staff.

Anonymous said...

The union dues are paid by the firefighters - not by the town. YOu can get rid of the union all you want - the town will still not have any additional funds to hire more firefighters.

Anonymous said...

As to the 10:31 poster's remark that the town "needs to...spend money where it needs to be spent" I shudder to think what he/she would consider a proper need.

Anonymous said...

Unions also make sure their members come up to standards -- they will not tolerate uneducated underachievers.

Union members pay their own dues.

Anonymous said...

A union for firefighters in Boston also resisted drug testing, ignoring my preferred standard that firefighters coming to recue my family are not high or coked up.

Anonymous said...

You will also have a difficult time finding a department that as a matter of practice sends a single engine with 3 firefighters to alarms in a 22 story occupied residential high-rise building.

No. This is not accurate, and folk need to remember that all 911 calls from any UMass exchange do not go directly to the AFD via the 911 dispatcher.

All UM-origin 911 calls go to the UMPD dispatcher, as do the fire alarms, and the initial response to an alarm/911-fire call in a SW tower is by UMass F-1 unit -- EH&S -- and in theory if it is an actual working fire, EH&S has the ability to share that with the yet-to-arrive AFD.

If the AFD considers the UM EH&S to be incompetent, then say that and defend that and argue that the money UM pays for EH&S should instead go to the AFD. But don't make it look like your 3 guys are rolling without known help from the university's own EMS folk.

Now as to the cost ratio, at least on the ambulance, I would like to see a breakdown on payments made because I suspect that the major deficit is with the homeless downtown.

Anonymous said...

In regards to AFD inspections. The town provides inspections for building, plumbing, electrical, and health with only one person needed to perform the required task. Why does it take up to five firemen to push the test button on a smoke alarm? You can try to use staffing as an excuse but face it, AFD should not be in the inspection service to begin with. the town already has a qualified group to perform this function. If you say it is a staffing issue that justifies waste. That is just another lame excuse in the land of excuses. And in case you are interested, Massachusetts state building codes do not require a fireman to perform any mandatory test on anything. The only requirement is a qualified person.

Larry Kelley said...

I believe one of the reasons they always take an ambulance to accompany a firetruck for inspections is so that they can respond quickly from that scene to an emergency should one arise.

They do have, umm, radios.

Anonymous said...

Larry, ask for payment revenues for the three colleges and for the town itself. I would be very surprised it you didn't find that the uncompensated cost per run wasn't higher for the town itself. And then look at whatever exists for "difficulty" ratings -- time out, extra staff needed, whatever they have -- and again I suspect you will find that the town runs cost more.

Simple logic, the 19 year old with a broken ankle isn't likely to "code" in the back of the ambulance, the 59 year old who has already had 3 heart attacks very well might; it isn't fun but it is a whole lot easier to drive a drunken college kid to the hospital than to cut someone out of a wrecked vehicle (and then drive him to the hospital if he is still alive).

That picture you posted of the drunken bum (whom we all know pays NOTHING for the ambulance, in taxes, PILOT or anything else) had an awful lot of EMS folk there -- I don't want to speak for the AFD but I would request backup in dealing with folk like him.

And that is money.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone actually verified (as in "Radio Check, Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, repeat back to me if you copy") that all of the various town and university entities (a) have access to a shared radio frequency and (b) that all of their radios actually work on this frequency, and (c) that there isn't some funky local interference that makes traffic unreadable?

Two very real reasons. The first involved a Boston commuter train wreck caused by the fact that the crossing guard worked for the MBTA and had a MBTA radio while the MBTA had contracted with Amtrak to run the trains and hence the engineer had an Amtrak radio.

The train was going 79 MPH and around a blind corner a large bulldozer was stuck on the tracks. (A crossing guard was there 24/7 because it was a blind crossing at the base of a steep hill - the crossing was considered so dangerous that the gates were never automated.)

Protocol was simply to tell the train to stop -- no one knew he couldn't talk to the train. As in the 19th Century, anything waved frantically across the track of an oncoming train is a signal to immediately stop and the engineer hit the emergency brakes when he saw the flagman running down the other track toward him -- slowing to 37 MPH prior to impact and because the train then went into deep snow, there were no fatalities.

So do they have a frequency they can talk to each other on, and do they verify that with some frequency?

Just because it is supposed to work doesn't mean it does -- there is the incident with the Mullins Center that UM would like to forget. They had an emergency generator that would power the lights and it had been extensively tested, but no one had ever tested the switch that automatically kicks the load over when the line power fails - the only way to do that is to disconnect the line power and no one had done that.

Well there is "Midnight Madness" and a power failure and while the emergency generator starts and is idling fine, the switch is defective and doesn't kick the load over -- and there is no electrician around to do it manually. And the entire Mullins Center is dark -- some folk may remember that night....

Which is why I ask if anyone is verifying that they actually can talk to each other, not just ought to be able to....

First Responder said...

Yet no mention of the UMass students working with the fire department. Why?

Nor to mention it contributes more through it's sorority and greek systems in terms of service hours than every other higher education university population in Amherst combined.

Nor that it depends on state funding and cannot raise fees as it must educate as many as possible. The money to the town should come from the state aid, not the university, as UMass is a state body. As a student there I wouldn't donate to many groups as the money left campus, rather than improving and operating the school.

Larry Kelley said...

You must be new here.

Anonymous said...

Hello again,

UMASS does infact have a department called Envirmental Health and Safety or EH&S. This is department is responsible for, among other things, fire prevention at UMASS. A representitive from the department does indeed respond to all alarms on the campus and often are able to provide information to responding fire apparatus. EH&S responds with one person to these alarms, and while many of thier employees are firefighters in thier home towns, they do not posses the capebility for nor are tey tasked with fire supression. It would seem to me that someone familiar with the workings of EH&S would be aware that thier primary role is fire prevention. The fact remains that the Amherst Fire Department as a patter of practice dispatched a single engine company with 3 firefighters to alarms in 22 story occupied residential highrise buildings. it is an unsafe practice that we are forced into by limited staffing. I challenge you to find another fire department that does this.

With regard to inspections, if you consult CME 527 and MGL Chapter 148 you will find several types of buildings thatevery fire department in the commonwealth is required to inspect. These are not the state building codes, these are laws that speciffically regulate the oeration of the fire department and its fire prevention activities. As I stated in a previous post, life safety inspections in buildings are either large and potentially confusing or with complicated systems, as well as those with target hazards are generally attended by all of the firefighters on the particular shift that is assigned the inspection. The reason for this, as stated is to familiarize all of the members of the buildings and hazards. This allowes for a more efficent response and increases the safety for the responding firefighters. I do not see this as "waste". These firefighters are already on duty and "on the clock". They conduct these inspections between emergency calls and remain availble to respond while the inspections are in progress. I would also like to point out that there is much more involved in a life safety inspection than simply pushing the test button on a smoke detector.

Finally, if first responder had read my initial post, he or she would have seen that I did indeed mention both the on-call and student volunteer members of our department. I would suggest that they go back and give it another read.

Jeffrey Parr
Amherst Firefighters
IAFF Local 1764

Anonymous said...

@ FF Parr. An example to back up your statement. Brookline Fire Department, in Massachusetts, utilizes a "Master Box" system. Where buildings of a certain size and or population receive 2 engines and one ladder all staffed at 4 FF/apparatus. They do not have anything as large as a Umass tower but I am sure it over qualifies for the same response. I have had the pleasure of knowing and working with the Firefighters of the Amherst Fire Department and I can tell you that they need people and it is in the worst kind of way. I wish them all the best in the upcoming school year. I have no doubt it will be busy, but I know they will handle the calls with professionalism and diligence that I have come to know them for.