Showing posts with label Amherst Fire Department. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Amherst Fire Department. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Amherst EMS: A New Normal

AFD provides ambulances to Amherst, Hadley, Leverett, Pelham & Shutesbury

This past weekend was not nearly as crazy as last weekend when AFD had to rely on NINE outside ambulances via mutual aid but three outside ambulances were required.  So still not acceptable.

Interestingly the difference in total calls was only seven less going from 56 down to 49 but it was the timing of the calls, which is the problem with ETOH (overly drunk) incidents as they tend to come in clusters.

And staffing last weekend was only 8 compared to 11 this weekend.  Thus demonstrating proper staffing makes all the difference.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Fireground East Pleasant Street

Area units on scene with AFD Super Bowl Sunday morning
South Hadley E4 providing station coverage at Central Station this morning

As is the case with any major structure fire AFD required a little help from their friends, specifically: Northampton Fire Department, Pelham Fire Department, Hadley Fire Department, South Hadley District 2 Fire Department, Belchertown Ambulance, and South County Ambulance.

Fortunately this morning the smoke detectors did their job and all three residents home at the time made it to safety, although the structure's top floor sustained heavy damage and those below probably a fair amount of water damage.

But what if this awful event had occurred a week -- minus a few hours -- earlier?  AFD was so overwhelmed last weekend by medical calls (mostly alcohol related at UMass) that NINE mutual aid ambulances from surrounding departments were required to cover the calamity!

Since AFD is in ready mode for the Super Bowl we had 10 on duty and thus were able to muster a decent initial response, which can make a life or death difference.

Either way area departments would have responded because the emergency response system state-wide for fire/EMS is always spread ultra thin. 

And when the Beast comes calling it takes a combined effort of on-duty personnel area wide and our off-duty firefighters to meet the challenge.

This time, we won.

Monday, January 30, 2017

On A Wing & A Prayer

 Rolling Green fatal fire (photo by Stephanie Jernigan

If a terrorist bomb detonates in downtown Amherst during peak traffic period you would expect AFD to require nine or more mutual aid ambulance runs from surrounding professional departments over a four hour period.

In fact these days all professional departments practice for those unthinkable Mass Causality Incidents.

But when a routine late Saturday night into early Sunday morning this early in the semester requires nine mutual aid ambulances (mostly for intoxicated college age youth at UMass) something is dramatically wrong.

And the thought that keeps Chief Nelson awake at night is what happens if a major structure fire occurs in the middle of that EMS mayhem, such as we saw a few years ago at Rolling Green that left one UMass student dead?

   AFD Swamped by Larry Kelley on Scribd

Holyoke has come under fire for having one engine on brown out that could have been helpful in that fatal fire on New Year's Day.

But the staffing shortage at AFD is almost like an everyday brownout since Engines or ambulances can't drive themselves.

Yes the UMass funded "impact shift" with four extra firefighters was not on duty because officials felt it too early in the semester to be necessary.

 But even with two extra potential ambulances Mutual Aid would still have been required during that troubling four hour period.

You have to wonder how Northampton is going to feel when they send all their available ambulances to Amherst and one of their own citizens suddenly needs medical assistance?

Friday, January 13, 2017

A Question Of Priorities

 Town Manager submits dog bites man budget

All you need to know about rookie Town Manager Paul Bockelman's FY18 budget is the underlined statement in his letter of transmittal:  No additional staff positions are proposed.

In other words AFD will continue to run pretty much full time on "brown out" relying on surrounding full time professional departments to assist with their routine life and death duties.

Of course Mr. Bockelman does state, "Any decisions regarding staffing changes in Fire and EMS await results of an independent analysis, due in February."

But if/when that study reveals the need for more staffing we have to wait until next year to make it happn. Thus leaving the town open to a negligence lawsuit if a tragic incident like what happened recently in Holyoke should occur.

 Employee Benefits and Capital are hidden costs of the White Elephant golf course

Yet his budget does show continued tax support for the Cherry Hill Golf Course of $68,749 and $392,143 for Leisure Services and Supplemental Education or a total tax expenditure of $460,892 on recreation.

 LSSE budget.  Click to enlarge/read

Maybe at the next major structure fire, when Engine 1 arrives with only one firefighter aboard as happened on June 4th, we can call in a caddie or yoga instructor to assist.

UPDATE 10:00 AM 

Coincidentally enough the town announced the retirement this morning of long time LSSE Director Linda Chalfant.  Rather than replacing her they should simple nix the entire department and use about half of the $400K projected in tax support next year to supply vouchers to town residents good at area private recreation/sports operations. 

Engine 1 (top left) was first on scene but with only the driver
Northampton FD ambulance on scene The Arbors yesterday to assist AFD

Monday, January 9, 2017

Busiest Year Ever

Expensive machines are not much good if you can't properly staff them

To anyone who has been paying attention over the past year it comes as no surprise that 2016 was the busiest year on record for the beleaguered Amherst Fire Department:  6,513 total call or a 30% increase from ten years ago when the department last had a staffing increase.

 Click to enlarge/read

EMS runs made up 78% of total responses so it's no wonder the Ambulance Fund is well ahead of schedule to intake the $2.4 million projected by the Town Manager last year.  As of January 1st, with FY17 exactly half over, the fund has generated $1.6 million in revenues.

In other words AFD ambulance receipts cover more than half their $4.5 million total annual budget.

 Click to enlarge/read

If the ambulance fund does intake a hundred thousand or so over the initial projection this year why not reinvest that back into the "business" by hiring more firefighters?  Last year Dispatch had to issue 423 calls for "station coverage".

 This could have been a disaster

On January 1 Holyoke FD had to respond to a major structure fire with one less engine company because of a "brown out" brought on my budget cuts.  Three people died in that conflagration.

That same day Northampton FD had to respond to Amherst town center to transport a citizen who fell on the ice because all our firefighters were tied up on other calls.

 NFD on scene Amherst town center 1/1/17

Bare minimum staffing, a problem statewide, is playing Russian roulette with public safety.  Overly educated Amherst should be smarter than that.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

If At 1st You Don't Succeed

The DPW Fire Station Advisory Committee met yesterday for a lick-your-wounds strategy session after one of two proposals failed on the floor of Fall Town Meeting.

Specifically the $350,000 requested for a more advanced schematic design phase study of a new DPW building, which seemed like a lot of money compared to the $75,000 Town Meeting approved for an initial Fire Station study.

If the Fire Station can now catch up to the DPW by spring then the Committee will recommend two separate warrant articles for the Annual Town Meeting of around $350,000 each for the required schematic design phase, although most members agreed it would be helpful if each project had identified a building site by then.

The plan still seems to be for the Fire Station to locate where the DPW is now but town officials have now given up on Fort River School as a DPW relocation site.

Chair Lynn Griesemer was adamant the very preliminary proposed "ideal" DPW building is simply too expensive especially given it's three times that of the new Fire Station ($37 million vs $12 million).

 Weston & Sampson preliminary cost estimates new DPW

Over the next few months the committee will work with consultants Weston & Sampson to try to bring down the cost which normally does happen once a site is selected.

Another suggestion is for the committee to propose a maximum cap, say $25 million, and ask the consultants what kind of a DPW building can they come up with for that amount.

 Anything of course would be an improvement over what they have today.

DPW is located in 100 year old former Trolley repair barn in a really nice neighborhood

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

I Hate Fire!

UMass is a safe campus.  But you can never be too safe with fire

And you should too. 

But that doesn't mean you should not prepare for it. 

Click to enlarge/read

Please join the Amherst Fire Department, UMass Environmental Health & Safety, Dunn & Phillips Law firm and two victims who survived a devastating fire to learn simply strategies to survive should the Beast come calling.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Fireground: Fearing Street

AFD quickly snuffed out the fire with an interior attack

A box alarm for a kitchen stove fire called in around 8:00 this Sunday morning brought all hands on deck response from AFD and APD, but the fire was quickly extinguished.

While stove fires (and chimney fires) may seem to be innocuous it's not unusual for the beast to break out of those confines and wreak havoc on the rest of the structure.

And that was the case here as the fire extended into the walls and ceiling, but was not allowed to go any further.

AFD was also mindful of their water usage and told Dispatch to inform the water department they would not be using all that much.

 Click to enlarge/read

Engines 1 & 2 and Ladder 1 were on the scene
Putting the hoses away (for now)

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Drunk Meter Report

Overall AFD runs for substance abuse are about 10%, but much higher on weekends

Again this past weekend UMass came in over .50 on the drunk scale with 8 of 11 AFD ambulance transports (73%) due to alcohol overdose.  And even if you factor in the other two colleges the index would not be below my modest target range of 50%.

Drink responsibly!  Oh, and conserve water.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Lost Weekends

AFD at UMass horse barn fire September 4th

While substance abuse calls to the campuses take up about 10% of AFD total emergency runs spread out over an entire year the percentage goes WAY up on weekends, which is peak period for binge drinking.

For instance in this weekend report Amherst College is at 100%, Hampshire College 60% and UMass 56%. 

And each drunk run ties up an ambulance for at least an hour meaning they are not available for any other serious emergency.

Time for our colleges and FLAGSHIP University to double down on this problem.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Busy Friday

Northampton Fire Department in South Amherst Friday 8:29 AM

If you or a loved one required an ambulance Friday morning Amherst Fire Department -- your local hometown providers -- would have relied on a neighboring professional EMS department to come to your aid. 

Hence the term "mutual aid".

In fact our friends in Northampton had to respond to a call in South Amherst from a 14-year-old who awakened with severe lower extremity pain. 

APD responded immediately (although they too were stretched at the time) and AFD's fire prevention officer  jumped in his vehicle and sped to the scene to assist until the Northampton ambulance arrived.

Unfortunately it's not all that unusual:  The needs of Amherst residents being met by a neighboring FD ambulance averages 78 times per year.

 AFD & APD on scene Northampton Road 8:10 AM for our friend Ethel

Over the next 12 hours AFD Dispatch would tone out on three separate occasions for off duty personnel or the Call Force to come in for "station coverage."

And even that only provides minimum coverage at the station, not enough to fully staff an engine in case The Beast came calling.

Why do you think they are a called a "fire department?"

Engine 1 with only 1 aboard (left) arrived to this on June 4th

Last month on a "routine" Saturday afternoon the first arriving engine at a major fire at Alpine Commons apartment building had only one firefighter aboard (the driver) and he could do virtually nothing until anther engine arrived from North Station with three aboard.

We were flat out lucky on Friday morning.  One day soon, our luck will run out.

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)

Monday, June 20, 2016

Fire Station/DPW Plan B

Fort River Elementary School

The current working plan involving three of the four upcoming major building projects is a bit like playing dominoes (or musical chairs):  The new DPW to be located at the town owned Fort River School, freeing up their former location for the new South Fire Station.

 Current DPW is located in 100 year old former Trolley building

Only problem is the Fort River School is still a (mostly) functional elementary school.

Should the $35 million or so Debt Exclusion Override for the new $65+ million Mega School pass Town Meeting this Fall and the voters at the November election the grand plan will be on its way.

Although it will take a few years before the new school is completed in two phases and construction can commence with the new DPW and then the new Fire Station.

But if those best laid plans fail to pass the first major hurdle of an Override vote this Fall both the DPW and Fire Station will have to find new site locations.  The DPW already did a feasibility study that concluded the Fort River School site was #1 but they also identified at least two other adequate sites:

 1) Ball Lane, North Amherst (former Matuszko Trucking)
2) Town land between Belchertown Road and Gull pond

Although the South Fire Station project is only now preparing to undertake a formal feasibility study, at least two sites have been mentioned as a possible location that falls within state guidelines for distance away from town center (so decrepit Central Station could be closed):

1) Slobody property behind South Town Commons, Pomeroy Village South Amherst
2) Town owned South Amherst Alternative High School, South East Street
Thus this coming Town Meeting will be critical in setting the stage for all four building projects which, all told, will cost over $100 million in town funding and should last a minimum of fifty years.

And Town Meeting will be under a microscope as the Charter Commission could propose a new Mayor/Council government, abandoning the 258 year old institution.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Surreal Sunday

God was on our side this morning

So it's a little hard to enjoy a leisure Sunday breakfast celebration for Kira's recent class president victory when the restaurant's large screen TV is constantly showing scenes of the massacre in Florida, with subtitles no less.

And Jada keeps asking "What happened Daddy, what happened?"  You would think by now even a 9-year-old would be all too familiar with what happened.  Maybe it's better she doesn't understand, not that I can fully explain it anyway.

 Jada and my drone helping with Kira's campaign (sort of)

Then on the way to dropping them off at the horse farm a few minutes before 11:00 AM just over the Amherst town line into Belchertown I hear a call for a "man down, possibly not breathing, CPR in progress" at an apartment complex very near the horse farm

Before long four police vehicles, an ambulance and Engine 1 scream by me enroute to the scene.

 APD on scene for "unattended death"

Since it was less than a mile from my destination I decide to stop by after dropping the girls off so I'm in no particular hurry -- but I am doing all of the 55 mph allowed by law on that particular long straightaway.

Suddenly a vehicle coming in the opposite direction (towards Amherst) less than 100 feet away tries to take a left turn into the large Christ Community Church parking lot, but stops dead in my lane at the last split-second sight of me, with my mouth probably wide open in amazement.

Fortunately, I still have karate reflexes as I instinctively knew brakes alone would never stop me in time.

I swerved to the right smacking and going slightly airborne over the curbing (the black rounded kind not the square granite blocks that would have done significant damage) onto a greenway and came to a controlled stop after rolling about 150 feet.

Jada, buckled in the back seat, thought it all was pretty exciting, but Kira -- buckled in the front seat so much closer to the action -- was practically hyperventilating.

After a deep breath and talking with the elderly woman who profusely apologized, I realized something that has always bothered me about public safety understaffing.

Since I was driving a little Nissan Juke and she was driving one of those big old Daddy's kind of Buick there's no doubt in my mind that a collision avoided by only a centimeter and a split second would have resulted in the need for two, possible three ambulances.  Or a Medical Examiner.

And almost at that exact moment Dispatch (the "729") was toning out to off duty firefighters to come in "for station coverage."  The unattended death at the nearby apartment complex and at least one other medical call had once again overwhelmed on-duty staffing.

So that means my daughters and I would have had to await ambulances responding from Belchertown, Northampton, or South Hadley.  Adding agonizing minutes to a response where  additional minutes could spell the difference between life and death.

Only minutes after Engine 4 Call Force personnel reported in for "station coverage" they were called out to 5-story  Clark House for "smoke in the building" which fortunately turned out to be due to pot left on stove

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Fire Is The Devil's Only Friend

AFD Engine 1 (far left)  Engine 2 (center) Hadley Ladder truck (right)
 Morning after:  fencing already erected around building

Besides the beep, beep, beeping of a smoke detector still doing its job this morning at Alpine Commons the scene is pretty much what you would expect walking (or flying) over a battlefield after the guns have gone silent.

Yesterday was a different story of course.  The sights and sound and most particularly the smell of a major structure fire is something you simply never forget.  But as long as there are no casualties at least it's a scar that will one day heal.

AFD Engine 1 was first on the scene but it's hard to get anything done when the only person aboard her was a captain from Central Station.

Engine 2, the aerial, arrived soon after from North Station with three aboard and after hooking up to a hydrant started spraying up to a 1,000 gallons of water per minute from above.

At the time of the box alarm 8 professional firefighters made up the on-duty shift (although it goes down to 7 for the summer), but 4 were tied up on two ambulance calls.  

Slowly the reinforcements arrived:  Hadley with an invaluable Ladder Truck, Northampton, Pelham and South Hadley with pumpers and Belchertown providing station coverage in case another fire should come calling.

AFD Ambulance One and South County EMS also provided an ambulance to the scene mainly to monitor and assist all the firefighters battling the elements as well as the fire.

Naturally I asked Chief Nelson about staffing:

 Click to enlarge/read

Another problem is Ladder 1 is out for repairs.  At almost 30 years of age that may end up being the new normal.  Not a good thing considering the newer buildings going up in Amherst are five stories.

Aging equipment, skeleton staffing and a Fire Station badly in need of replacement.  Such is the life our full-time career firefighters.  Yes, skill goes a l-o-n-g way in overcoming major obstacles.  As does a little luck.

One of these days skill alone, with our limited numbers, will not be enough. 

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Requiring A Life Saver

Rolling Green fatal fire 1/21/13 (photo by Stephanie Jernigan)

Sprinklers are a firefighter's best friend, an automated system on duty every minute of the day or night, making a monumental difference by catching a fire before it voraciously feeds and transforms to killer beast.

 Southpoint Apartments four alarm fire 8/9/14

Amherst Town Meeting just approved $390K in Community Preservation Act money to assist the Amherst College owned Evergreens Museum and First Congregational Church next door with installing protective fire suppression sprinkler system in their historic structures.

Since 219 Amity was constructed a long time ago they do not have a sprinkler system even though they are currently commercial housing and were "grandfathered" so town officials could not just suddenly require them.

 219 Amity Street near town center

But after the fire on Friday night, new codes will now kick in with the relevant three being: "Would otherwise require sprinklers" (Yes); "Sufficient water pressure available in the area" (Yes); and "Work area exceeds 50% of the building" (No).

And it only takes one "no" to avoid sprinklers.

State law, however, gives extraordinary authority to a fire chief, so Chief Nelson can simply order them to install sprinklers as part of the renovation.

After the fatal fire at Rolling Green Apartments, where a sprinkler system could have been a life saver, and the major fire at Southpoint Apartments 1.5 years later, which fortunately did not cause casualties, Chief Nelson required sprinklers in the newly rebuilt/renovated structures.

At the time he told me, "As a general statement, with few exceptions, we always lean toward sprinkler use in occupancies."

If the 219 Amity Street fire happened when UMass was in session that rental property would have been far more densely populated. 

Obviously the saving of just one life justifies the cost of a new commercial sprinkler system.

Every time.