Sunday, July 10, 2016

Public Safety Reinforcements

Fire started on far west side of building, entered the attic, and spread to eastern side
Alpine Commons fire June 4th

When Engine 1 first arrived from Central Station on the scene of an apartment building billowing smoke and fire last month precious minutes were wasted because the only firefighter on board was the driver, who had to wait until Engine 2 arrived with an additional three person crew.

That will likely not happen again if Chief Nelson's (3/25/2016) request for eight additional firefighters is funded by a federal SAFER grant (Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response), which funded five additional firefighters back in 2005.

Minimum on duty staffing would go from the current 7 or 8 per shift up to ten and -- most important -- to maintain a four person engine company.

 Engine 2 (the Quint) has 75' aerial ladder with 1,000 gallon per minute water nozzle

With that better staffed engine team available AFD can then meet the initial response national standard "four firefighting personnel be on scene of a fire within four minutes 80-90% of the time " rather than the current capability of meeting that target goal only 30% of the time.

And like all AFD full time professional firefighters the eight new recruits will be cross trained as paramedics or Advanced EMTs.  Medical calls account for over 75% of total AFD responses.

Currently at 1.15 firefighters per 1,000 population AFD has the lowest staffing ratio in the state for communities up to 40,000 population range and their 148.8 average calls per year per firefighter is the highest in the state.

The current system relies on "call backs" of off-duty career firefighters and then the Call Force (paid part-timers) but with the high cost of housing in Amherst many of these personnel no longer live in town, so it takes them more time to get back here for station coverage or assisting with a structure fire.

 AFD Engine 3, a 1999 pumper, seats 6 (but never sees that capacity met)

The volunteer Student Force operates out of North Station, but only when UMass is in session and they cannot staff an ambulance.

AFD protects Amherst from the ravages of fire but has for over 65 years now also contracted ambulance EMS to Leverett, Pelham, Shutesbury and Hadley.  And UMass/Amherst is pretty much a city unto itself requiring both ambulance and fire protection.

Interestingly UMass has a police force but no fire department, relying instead on Amherst Fire Department, with a total budget of $4.5 million and a staff of 45 full-time firefighters.

Whereas the combined staffing of Amherst Police Department and UMPD is 107 full-time police officers and a combined budget of $10.5 million (half paid by state and other half town funded).

 UMass has over 100 buildings, include five 22 story high rise dormitories

Better AFD staffing would also cut down on mutual aid ambulances needed every year, which averaged 78 per year for the past three years.

Mutual aid ambulances take longer to get here (the closest professional mutual aid partner is 10 miles away with an average response of 12 minutes), and the town losses the $1,000 average billing per call, or $78,000 per year.

Call backs for "station coverage" which now cost between $15 - $20,000 per year would be dramatically reduced as would annual overtime costs of $248,000 or Call Force costs of $75,000.

The SAFER grant would pay all expenses for the eight new personnel for two full years at a cost of a little over $500,000 per year.  Then it would be the town's responsibility to cover employee costs, but there is no requirement to keep all (or any) of the eight firefighters.

That way we have two years to figure out if the additional increase in people power pays for itself.

Although it's hard to put a price on saving a life.

 Rolling Green Apartments fire 1/21/2013 had one fatality (photo: Steven O'Toole)


Anonymous said...

We need more firefighters. No doubt about it. There's a finite amount of money that taxpayers can afford to pay. We need to drop the proposed DPW project or we will never have enough police or firefighters.

Dr. Ed said...

Why can't the student crew staff an ambulance? There are lots of vets who were medics and (I'm told) the state accepts military credentials as qualification for licenses.

Kevin said...

Comparing the DPW depot with an expected life of fifty years (paid for by people who aren't even born yet) to getting through the next two years without a tragic event is, as my four-year old neice says, "shit for brains".

Anonymous said...

This would be a great expense for UMass and Amherst College to pay for. We need to ask them for it, first, not expect it to drop out of the sky.

Anonymous said...

Mr Ed- Thats not how this works. That's not how any of this works.

Anonymous said...

+1 to anon 12:14. UMass needs to pay their fair share! PS, is there an updated version of these stats?

Anonymous said...

Umass building 20 story plus buildings and expecting the town to supply equipment and man power to fight their fires. Not right, should be a law and should be made to pay for the services they use.

Changes should start at the State level. Call your representatives(Stan), he likes to make the news.

Dr. Ed said...

The fact this isn't how it works is the problem.

The union is the problem.

There is a set criteria of education, experience, & testing to qualify for the various EMS licenses, a UM student who has a certain license is every bit as qualified as a union member with the same license.

(E.G. the PVTA -- most of the drivers are UM students.)

So you have folks working 30 months rather than 30 years, and wanting days off for exams rather than family events, but there is no reason why this couldn't be done.

No reason other than the union.

PS -- the Commonwealth has decreed that it is "Doctor."

Anonymous said...

A doctor helps people....

Anonymous said...

I'll just call you Ed, because only pretentious people call themselves doctor if they are not a medical doctor.

Anonymous said...


"UM student who has a certain license is every bit as qualified as a union member with the same license."

Sure, I see how you would think that, but in practically that is not how it works in skilled and professional EMS services. The state has said that they may have met a minimum level of training. That is just the start, do they really have the experience and competency necessary? The union folks do this job full-time, usually more than full-time, and they are called professionals for a reason. You can't expect the same level of professionalism and experience if you take an unseasoned EMT and put them in place of a that full-time professional paramedic. Do you want that new law-school graduate who just passed the bar arguing the capital murder case of a wrongly accused loved one? How about an unsupervised brand new physician, just out of medical school, taking care of a critically ill loved one (don't get sick in July).

A new EMT/paramedic goes through a whole orientation process as a 3rd rider. Sometimes it takes a few thousand hours before they have enough experience to go out on their own. This all happens after they are certified. Not a single reputable agency that I know of thinks that merely being certified makes you competent. It just gets you in the door. By the time the town would get a student firefighter trained and proficient they would have graduated. This matters.

You have a experienced and skilled paramedics working in your town. I have worked in a number of areas, a number of services and with countless paramedics, firefighters and EMTs. Without a doubt the EMS providers that I've known in Amherst are among the best. They are the ones that I would want to take care of my children or family. I implore you not to take that for granted.

I'm not a professional firefighter and I am not a fire/EMS union member, although I am an advocate for fair wages, safe working conditions and skilled professional labor. I don't always agree with union politics, sometimes I've been downright offended, but I think the Amherst Firefighters Union has the best interests of the people they look after in-mind when they speak on this topic.

The union is not the problem on this one. They are the only ones truly advocating for the taxpayers on this one.

If you really think that "a UM student who has a certain license is every bit as qualified as a union member with the same license" than maybe you should do a ride along with an unexperienced EMT and then a professional Amherst firefighter/paramedic. Ask them questions. Go over the protocols and ask them about tough calls. I have taught and supervised many new and unexperienced EMTs/paramedics and they are the first ones to attest to the fact that they are not every bit as qualified.

This is not a game. This is not about politics. This is about having the best possible service available to you and your community when the worst possible day happens. I wouldn't want to just settle on a cheap and easy solutions.