Thursday, March 21, 2013

UMass Comes Around


All that bitching, errr, complaining about the abusive "Blarney Blowout" paid off as our giant neighbor to the north has agreed to most of the demands of Amherst Town Manager John Musante to help our quaint little college town deal with rowdy students from now through graduation.

Which sure beats handing out oatmeal cookies.  

Unfortunately it looks as though the expanded hours on weekends for UMass Health Services to deal with all the drunks probably is not going to happen.

And yes, it's great UMass has agreed to fund two AFD ambulances.  But the problem is not who pays for the ambulances, it's that we can only put five on the road at one time.  And there have been times when five was not enough.

Can we maybe get UMass to fund two more additional permanent professional firefighters?

 AFD call volumes since 1975


Anonymous said...

I think you're on to something there Larry. A minimum of 2 more full time firefighters would make sense. It is insane that they are expected to provide services to a large population with the low staffing they have. It should have happened years ago.

Dr. Ed said...

Larry, UMass already IS paying for this. Ever since Hill Boss back in the '90s, everyone who lives on campus (including myself) was required to pay someting like $19/semester just to have an ambulance available. This is not the mandated insurance to pay for the ambulance's use, but only to have it available, even if we didn't use it.

So now, on top of all of this, they are now going to make the students hire two detail ambulances? Isn't that essentially being charged three times for the same service?

And as Larry points out, there are only five ambulances, and this doesn't increase the supply of ambulances one bit. Now if they were to hire a couple commercial ambulances --- or even other FDs on overtime (e.g. Westfield) -- then that WOULD increase the number of ambulances able to roll.

I mean no offense to the AFD or its union, but all I see coming out of this proposal is a guarantee of overtime for AFD guys. Yes, the union has every right to advocate for that -- but a plan that puts no more ambulances on the road doesn't make good public policy....

Walter Graff said...

Curious question? In the last five years how many confirmed instances are there where an ambulance was not available for a call because they were all in use? And if they were, what was the turnaround time/response delay because of it. I keep hearing about the possibility, but does it happen? If there are any details, I'd be curious.

I know that NYC with a population of 8 million has 410 ambulances stationed strategically throughout the city.

There is an industry formula for need and supply, based on factors such as geographic area, hospital distance, mean age, average response time, history, etc. I don't believe Amherst is under that limit.

I have seen you bring this up a number of times Larry and I wonder if it is based on empirical data or just your gut.

The question I ask is do we need more ambulances because it sounds like we do, or do we because we have the actual need?

And secondly, I think it's silly to go out of town for additional help if we have the force here, straight time or not.

Larry Kelley said...

The Mullins Center concerts have done it more than once:

Anonymous said...

Ed, once again you have jumped to conclusions and yeah that is offensive. This has NOTHING to do with what the union wants, they are begging for more staffing. AFD has an overtime budget so I hope the town manager is going to increase that since I heard they are running low.
And exactly what line on the student bill says $19 for ambulance coverage?
Walter, the stats have been posted over and over again.

Walter Graff said...

Sorry Larry, that's not proof. Because in one instance, all the ambulances where transporting does not mean we don't have enough ambulances.

I'm not being flippant but you seem to have a beef about drinking by students and the resulting use of town apparatus. Any town/city has instances where there are simply not enough ambulances. In those cases medical decisions about dispatch and transportation are made on worst case scenario. Ambulance requirements are based on a number of state and government factors. Has anyone shown that ʇsɹǝɥɯ∀ is not complying with those requirements or even strained?

Show me some real need such as a 20-30 percent increase in emergency calls in a five-year period or that the current method of dispatching is creating delayed transport time
es for critically ill patients, or that a defibrillator is more than four minute away form such a call and I'll agree, but so far all you present are a few instances where you are worried because ambulances "might" be needed somewhere else and drunk and high students don't deserve medical care because of their stupidity and ignorance.

In every one of the instances I've seen you write about such a potential scenario, nothing like it has occurred.

There have been instances where all the apparatus of the fire department is fighting a structure fire. Does that mean we should have more apparatus in case there is a second call.

Or said another way based more on what you seem to point towards, what if that apparatus was fighting a fire on the campus each week "robbing" the town of it's personnel and equipment, should we then have more apparatus and make the university pay for it because of the possibilities of a fire in town or because of the real need.

Many towns suffer from what is perceived as a problem in staffing and equipment for EMS. A recent survey by the Fire Chiefs Association showed 61% of respondents said they could use more help. And I'm sure ʇsɹǝɥɯ∀ feels the same way.

Just wondering if anyone has any real proof that there is a need or if giving someone a hammer makes everything look like a nail.

Larry Kelley said...

The Stats speak for themselves:

(knock yourself out)

Walter Graff said...

I did look Larry and couldn't find the need you speak of. Unfortunately the stats can be interpreted any way one wants to but in my mind don't show that we don't have enough.

Looking at state and federal requirements compared to the stats and the town is not far out of the norm. And with UMASS offering more, I think it is a good step and shows the University is doing it's best to help deal with the situation.

Larry Kelley said...

According to the final report of the Amherst Fire Department Re-Organization Committee November, 2003:

"AFD has the smallest career force of any community within the Commonwealth in the 28,000-40,000 population range, yet is one of the busiest. Our ration of 117.35 calls per firefighter per year is the highest in the state, and our 1.11 firefighter per 1,000 population is the lowest."

And if you peruse once again that link to responses you will see they have gotten far busier since 2003 without any increase in staffing.

Walter Graff said...

Thanks Larry. The part that was missing for me was staffing. I didn't know if that increased or has remained stagnant. Thanks for the clarification.

Anonymous said...

In the last 12 months Amherst has requested a mutual aid ambulance to respond to the Amherst response area 70 times.That is 70 times that a request for an ambulance has not been able to be fulfilled with local resources and required an Ambulance from Northampton, Belchertown, South Hadley, Granby, Easthampton, or Westfield to respond to Amherst.

This does not count the number of time an Amherst ambulance has had to respond back to Amherst from Northampton or even Springfield to an emergency call in Amherst.

Walter Graff said...

So would I be correct in saying that since the 2003 report, the town has not increased the number of personnel and apparatus? I did see in one of the 2009 reports that the town believes in a bare bones approach. Thanks for the mutual aid numbers. I did not realize it was this bad. Wow, these poor guys and girls who have to work like this. Stress must be bad. Once again this town shows how poorly it is run.

Anonymous said...

Since 2009, AFD has required mutual aid ambulances 263 times, according to the Amherst Firefighters page.

The graph at the link below shows the increase in call volume since 1976 with ZERO net change in the minimum on-duty staffing. I think the numbers have established an actual need, Walter.

Walter Graff said...

I see that and I do agree. Wow, I was not aware of the lack of staffing. Unfortunately this is a major issue in many suburban/rural areas where town revenue does not cover the bases. The shared plan works for many, but clearly the elephant in the room is the 20,000 people we don't see, but who also fall under the umbrella of need.

So what are the options to alleviate this?

Larry Kelley said...

Well we need to build a new South Amherst Fire Station (a need first identified in the early 1950s) so we should -- while we're at it -- add at least two new full time positions to the minimum on-duty staffing.

And let UMass help pay for some of that.

Walter Graff said...

So what are the odds of that happening? Or are there other options that the Council seeks that are probably a worse move but more economical and politically correct. Does it have to be a fire station or could it be an ambulance station. Is more fire apparatus needed in South Amherst? How is the responsibility of UMASS determined?

Anonymous said...

I'd like to make 2 points. First, we are not talking about the Amherst Ambulance Department, as no such department exists. Please keep in mind that when all of the on duty firefighters are assigned to ambulance calls, NONE are left to respond to your house if it should catch fire. This situation occurs several times a week on average. Off duty and on call firefighters are called in to fill the gap, however there are often significant periods of time where there are no firefighters available to respond to the next emergency. Second, Amherst Fire Department ambulances regularly respond from CDH to calls in town. By regularly I mean several times a week, and in many cases several times a day. In addition, we often cannot fee up resources and have to rely on mutual aid from Northampton and beyond. So yes, residents and visitors to the town do have to wait longer than normal for ambulances to respond from greater distances. Someone asked the question "do we need more ambulances". To this I say, you're asking the wrong question. What you should be asking is do we need more staff. Ambulances do not treat the sick and injured. They do not drive themselves. In addition, fire engines do not drive themselves either, nor do they fight fires. I've said it before, and I’ll keep saying it. The Amherst Fire Department is dangerously understaffed. Not on weekends, not during the school year, but all the time. There is simply not enough staff to effectively respond to the volume of calls received. The situation won't change until something is done to change it. The call volume will continue to climb every year. Temporary injections of cash from UMASS and elsewhere are simply band-aids applied to a gaping wound. At some point a commitment needs to be made to properly funding public safety.

Jeff Parr
Amherst Firefighters
IAFF Local 1764

Larry Kelley said...

The chances of finally getting a new station seem pretty good this time around.

The Chief mentioned at a meeting not to long ago that a building site may be soon acquired.

About 80% of AFD runs are ambulances and only about 20% fire engines.

But there's no such thing as an "ambulance station". Although Central Station in town center is pretty close, because it's so old they can't fit either of the ladder trucks inside.

UMass accounts for about a quarter of AFD activity, so that alone should come to over $1 million in annual Payments In Lieu of Taxes, considering AFD's $4.1 million budget.

Which is why I laugh when it's mentioned that UMass paid us a lousy $363,718 last year towards AFD usage.

Walter Graff said...

Well thank you Jeff for the enlightening information. Thank you for standing up for the men and women? of the ʇsɹǝɥɯɐ FD.

My grandfather was a fireman in NYC for forty years and died from his work. I have many relatives and friends who are firefighters. I lost seven of those friends to 9/11. I've done many training and simulation videos for the City of NY FD.I have a great deal of respect and admiration for firefighters. I applaud your dedication under what must be incredibly stressful situations. You show your diligence and dedication to your work even as you are slapped in the face every day by the government of ʇsɹǝɥɯɐ.

Shame on this town for playing a dangerous game. It's time to change the game in ʇsɹǝɥɯɐ, and time to change the passive aggressive group that makes decisions that are incredibly backwards and stupid.

And Thank you Larry for the follow-up.

Of course this is about staffing. Clearly the dice have not hit craps yet, but someday they will. Like most all of s,ʇsɹǝɥɯɐ decision, is it going to take someones death before they wise up? How come this matter is not brought to the populous or has it? Is this troubling and dangerous powder-keg something that the residents are aware of or does the council sweep it under the rug like most everything else.

Besides making it known here (which actually gets to word to many people) what is a best next step?
What can people do to help make the changes needed with staffing to get this terrible situation to one that is more realistic with the number of calls, and need?

Larry Kelley said...

The problem with our form of government is nobody is really in charge.

Town Meeting appropriates all the money, the Select Board is our highest elected executive body and they control the town manager and he runs the day to day business of the town.

So it's a multi-front campaign that needs to be waged: Tell the Select Board, Town Manager and Town Meeting that we are mad as Hell.

Mark said...

Last year on a busy party weekend at UMass, we had a medical emergency in my household. Someone lost consciousness from a possible heart attack. 911 came quickly enough but when we got to Cooley-Dick, the ER was packed with drunk college students. Keeping UHS open on weekends would aleviate some of this crowding.

The bigger issue is what is the ENTIRE COMMUNITY, the town AND the university, doing to stop the epidemic of irresponsible drinking at UMass?

It should never be acceptable for scores of young people to be so drunk every weekend that they require hospital treatment.

All I hear is "kids will be kids" and lame gestures like handing out cookies. This is not cutting it

Mark said...

Follow up to my previous message:

I was not clear that the ambulance that came after I called 911 with a household member in medical distress was not from Amherst but from another town. I didn't think anything of it at the time. Is it possible that all the Amherst ambulances were in use taking drunk kids to CDH? Seeing the mob of drunk kids when we eventually got to CDH, I would say it is likely.

A few additional steps that UMass should take:
1. Raise student fees by whatever it costs to fully staff the AFD so they can care for irresponsible students who put themselves in danger. This may be $50 and it may be $200.

2. Send a letter to students and to their parents explaining that they are being assessed a surcharge to cover this dangerous behavior. It should be made extremely clear that this is a not a fee to cover new classroom buildings or to pay faculty salaries, but only to pay for the cost of out of control drinking.

3. Be an active lobbyist against the issuance of additional liquor licenses in town. Last year when Gold's Gym converted to a cavernous bar, nearly abutting UMass property, where was the outcry of the effect of increasing the alcohol culture at UMass?

4. Recognize that the drinking problem is UMass's problem even if takes place at a private apartment complex a mile from campus.

Walter Graff said...

I have been to Cooley a number of times at night and it's a college dorm of injuries. Cooley loves it, more money for the hospital and hospitals always welcome money.

As for the problem, there are many proven government researched ways of dealing with it that numerous college towns have had great success with.

Sad ʇsɹǝɥɯ∀ and UMESS put on blinders and choose to react rather than pro-act. Throwing a couple of bucks towards dealing with the aftermath over ways of preventing and punishing is a waste but as long as they don't admit there is a serious problem, there isn't.

Another student will be killed perhaps related to a fire and not enough responders and it will be in the spotlight along with the under-staffing of ʇsɹǝɥɯ∀ FD and that will inch this town and UMESS to do something more than hand out cookies. Maybe hand out brownies along with the cookies. Then a free glass of milk. And that will have wondrous effects and everyone will realize there is no problem and UMESS is doing a great deal to handle it.


Anonymous said...

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But we are too stupid to just click... that... link...