Saturday, January 3, 2015

AFD: A Barnburner of a Year

AFD Engine 2 on scene UMass Berkshire Dining Commons 12/11/14

My regular readers will find this a "dog bites man" story, or as we brazen Catholic kids used to say growing up, "no shit Sherlock": Amherst Fire Department had its second busiest year on record (but busiest for medical calls) with a total of 5,914 calls, an increase of 3.94% over last year's busy tally of 5,690.

First number is fire calls, second number medicals calls, third number is total

With no staff increase of course.

In fact there has not been a staff increase since 2005 when the town received a $500,000 federal SAFER grant to hire five additional firefighters.

But even with those additional five our current 1.16  ratio of firefighters per 1,000 residents is well below what the International City Managers Association considers a minimum threshold for safety of 1.65 firefighters per 1,000.

Yes the minimum on-duty shift increased to 8 from 7 (the first increase since the 1970s), and UMass kicked in $80,000 in 2014 to fund the "impact shift" where an extra four firefighters geared up for Thursday night through early Sunday morning -- the bewitching hours for the alcohol fueled zombie herds.

Tom Valle, Secretary Amherst Firefighters Local 1764

But even then (with as many as 13 on duty)  there were times last fall -- especially in September -- when we had to rely on "mutual aid" ambulances from surrounding towns for medical emergencies because all of our staff were tied up dealing with preventable substance abuse cases.

In all last year there were 46 occasions when a medical emergency had to be handled by an out-of-town ambulance, thus requiring precious extra time for a patient to be safely delivered to a hospital.

Something you probably don't think about ... until it's your spouse, or child.  

Car vs tree Potwine Lane 12/10/14


Anonymous said...

Sure there are never enough but every year it always works out for the best. And perhaps someday that will bite Amherst in butt but for now it is what it is, don't expect it to change anytime soon.

Dr. Ed said...

The principle of mutual aid is that you don't have vast resources (at vast expense) far beyond what would only occasionally be needed.

In other parts of the country, fire protection is on a COUNTY basis and when the closest fire station is busy, dispatch sends the next one.

This is what mutual aid really is -- with the added benefit of retaining local control over the department, hiring the chief and the rest.

Anonymous said...

Members of town government are gamblers. They are extremely happy there will be a casino nearby so they can augment their gambling with the lives of citizens in town. When they lose it will be a huge payout.

Anonymous said...

The intent of mutual aid is, and has always been, to have a prearranged and organized system and framework to bring in assistance when the resources of a particular community are exhausted. That said, it has become far too common for municipal leaders to rely on these mutual aid agreements for normal, day to day operations instead of the occasional incident or incidents they were intended for. Beyond the instances of ambulance mutual aid that Larry points out are the large number of occasions where, due to multiple calls, usually medical emergencies, there are very few firefighters available to respond to the next emergency. Sometimes 1 or 2.....sometimes none at all. This happens regularly. Almost daily. There were at least 2 occasions this past year where the first arriving engine company at a residential structure fire did not have an adequate number of firefighters aboard to begin any sort of fire attack or search and rescue operation. Does this make anyone feel uncomfortable? It should. Thankfully neither of these fires resulted in civilian injuries or deaths, but that was just dumb luck. The simple fact is that call volume has and will continue to increase while staffing, both overall and per shift remains stagnant. The fire department is dangerously understaffed. This problem will not resolve itself.

Jeff Parr

Anonymous said...

Fer chrissake, all this complaining about the officials in your town, why doncha throw their asses out and get somebody in there who will do it how you want?

Anonymous said...

"Fer chrissake, all this complaining about the officials in your town, why doncha throw their asses out and get somebody in there who will do it how you want?"

I can tell you aren't a resident! lol

Dr. Ed said...

there are very few firefighters available to respond to the next emergency. Sometimes 1 or 2.....sometimes none at all

I was under the impression that this was the point at which mutual aid was called for "station coverage" -- the other FD parks its truck in the dooryard and is ready to be the FIRST rolling on anything.


Larry Kelley said...

Only time I ever hear another FD provide station coverage is in the event of a major structure fire when all AFD available personnel are engaged.

Anonymous said...

True enough.

Dr. Ed said...

when all AFD available personnel are engaged.

What the hell do you call it when they are all out on ambulance runs? Not "engaged"?

Attention Jeff Parr -- you want to look into something. if the ambulance service is set up as an "Enterprise Fund" -- which I think it has to be in order for you to be able to send out bills -- it is supposed to be self sustaining with all the revenue going ONLY to the ambulance service.

This is to the point where the FF/EMTs should actually be receiving two paychecks -- one from the town for the hours spent as a FF and a second one from the Ambulance Trust Fund for the hours spent on ambulance runs. My point is that there are supposed to be two different sources of your pay, kinda like some UM people whose pay comes from both the Amherst campus and Presidents' Office in Boston.

My point:

The more ambulance runs, the more revenue to pay for the staff needed to run them. Yes, you may prefer to have new slots rather than do this as overtime, but there should be enough money to hire however many people you need to meet the ambulance load without eliminating your FF abilities.

Where is the money going?

Dr. Ed said...

Is the ambulance service actually depleting the AFD?

Or is the ambulance service (and its revenue) being used to cover up a dramatic underfunding of firefighter hours -- money which comes from the town and not the ambulance bills.

Anonymous said...

God bless you men and women who so serve. Thank you.