, Salem, MA

Local News

January 24, 2013

Study calls for full-time chief, firefighter

WENHAM — A study looking into the needs of the Fire Department calls for increasing the chief’s job to full time and hiring another full-time firefighter.

While praising the town’s on-call firefighters, fire Chief Robert Blanchard, a member of the study committee, said the department is facing many challenges. Right now, Fire Prevention Officer Jeff Baxter is the department’s only full-time employee. The chief works 30 hours a week.

The department relies on 27 call firefighters, who either work part-time shifts or respond when an emergency arises. But the availability and number of on-call firefighters have been declining in recent years, the chief said.

Blanchard said many of them live and work outside town, while others have professional commitments that limit their availability.

“Our biggest concern is our response time is getting longer, and the number of on-call responders continues to drop,” Blanchard said.

There is also concern about the fire station not being staffed during some peak hours and holidays, according to the study.

The study group was formed after last year’s annual Town Meeting to look into possible changes. The group was made up of Blanchard, interim Town Administrator Mark Andrews, Selectman Ken Whittaker, and Finance and Advisory Committee member Michael Lucy.

“We looked at a number of different ways to address the crux of the issues,” Andrews said. The study included research into the department’s current model and fire departments in surrounding communities.

The report was presented at the selectmen’s meeting this week.

The group unanimously recommended adding another full-time firefighter, increasing the chief to full time, and developing shifts for call firefighters to maximize station coverage, especially during late afternoon and early evening.

Blanchard said the recommendation will enhance the town’s current model and is “no reflection on the work of the on-call firefighters.”

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