Fire officials weigh in on MRI feasibility study
Public forum scheduled
April 01, 2010
OSSIPEE — The board of selectmen, fire precinct chiefs and commissioners have agreed on an April 20 date for the public forum on the MRI Feasibility Study for Town Wide Fire Services.
Chiefs from the town's three fire precincts and its precinct commissioners weighed in on the study with in an interview held after a public forum on Feb. 24 was postponed due to stormy weather.
Fire Commissioner George Moynahan of the Center Ossipee Fire Precinct coordinated the meeting with the press as an opportunity for fire precinct officials to refute some of the data in the report and present their thoughts on the voluminous study released late year. Voters at town meeting sanctioned the study in 2009 at an expense of about $19,000. The meeting, held March 1 at the Center Ossipee Fire Station, included Ossipee Corner Fire Chief Adam Riley and Commissioner George Moynahan and Jim Spencer; Center Ossipee Fire Chief Mike Brownell and Commissioners Jim Dolan and Bob Freeman; and West Ossipee Fire Chief Brad Eldridge.
Last week's installment covered commentary on topics such as communications, costs, and methodology. Fire officials said while there were some good ideas in the report, they also questioned whether consolidation into one precinct would save or cost money and whether it would even be legally possible without getting the Legislature involved.
In this last installment, commentary focuses on training, staffing and mandatory requirements.
Fire officials also countered MRI's concern with what they perceived was low training budgets. The chiefs explained that much training is provided free or at low cost through the insurance carrier's risk management programs. "We have free training from our insurance company," said Eldridge. "We've had them here no less than a half dozen times and expect more sessions this spring," he added.
To further illustrate the cohesiveness and strength of the three precincts, they explained that the Ossipee precincts are members of the Ossipee Valley Mutual Aid Association and with three precincts represented, they get three votes. They pay $12,000 in dues to the association but they reap the benefits by utilizing the training. If the precincts were merged, they might pay less in dues but pay more for each individual firefighters class or training. As an example of how expensive those classes could be, Brownell said it could cost up to $700 for an EMT class for one person. Having three votes in the association makes the Ossipee departments strong lobbyists for the town, Brownell pointed out. Riley said they also get three times the slots that are usually offered by the association for these otherwise expensive classes. "Typically the town is offered two slots – the town of Ossipee would send six. If we had the force under one roof, we'd have (only) slots.)"
Spencer said a few years back when he was on the budget committee, one member felt there were "too many fire trucks" and fire boats in town. So Spencer took the time to visit all three stations.
"I get the sense that not many people are doing that, visiting the stations; they are just listening to what's coming out of the newspaper of out of town hall," Spencer said.
Eldridge added that during the recent precinct annual meeting, not one person asked about consolidation. Ultimately people came and approved funds to benefit public safety and risk management initiatives.
The MRI report failed to address the demands that risk management and federal or state life safety or training mandates places upon on the precincts, officials added.
Eldridge said risk management is key. "It may cost the department $3,000 for a stair chair that enables safer transport of an injured person, but one firefighter with a back injury incurred by carrying someone downstairs without a stair chair could cost $100,000."
"Risk management – that's what it is all about today is liability," Eldridge added. "But I haven't heard one word about in liability this study."
Brownell said, "We're mandated by the national fire protection association to do certain things and it costs money. Annual pump tests and service has to be done. Annual ladder tests have to be done. Your turnout gear, your self-contained breathing apparatus, has to be tested. We have to pay for that. We can't go down to Joe's Garage and have him put tires on. We have to have a qualified agency that meets the requirements," said Brownell. Documentation is required every step of the way, which takes up time and money as well. "If you don't document it, it's as if you never did it," added Brownell. Reports are also required on every medical call they go out to and for every patient. "There is all this reporting that needs to be done."
Spencer said these are costs that are going to remain whether you have one fire department or three or five. "These are expenses you can't change," he said.
Thus, the pretense that the town could save money by merging departments, that it could save some personnel and administrative costs, is off base, he adds. "There is no real 'savings' by changing it." The first draft suggested the town could save $100,000, but the final, second MRI report brought that figure down to $14,000, noted Spencer.
There is a misperception that the consolidation could save money but some aspects of the report would just switch the burden from one precincts taxpayers to another, officials indicated. Plus despite the tone of the meeting announcements, the consolidation is not a done deal.
Adds Spencer, "I would like the selectmen to be more neutral."
"I was in favor of the study," said Eldridge, " but do it open-mindedly."
The forum will be held Tuesday, April 20 at 6 p.m. at the Ossipee Town Hall on Main Street, Center Ossipee.