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Chief to request fire inspector position

September 15, 2010
BELMONT — In a repeat of a conversation the Board of Selectmen has had with previous fire chiefs, Chief David Parenti has suggested that the town consider hiring a fire inspector.

Parenti said he was in the process of beginning budget preparation and found that although the department is doing fire inspections as required by state law, it is not collecting any fees for that service. In talking with Gilford's retired Fire Chief Jim Hayes, Parenti learned that Gilford collect $10,000 in the first year it implemented inspection fees.

"It's been a topic of discussion for a couple years at least now," board Chair Ron Cormier said. "At one point we discussed (offsetting the salary) with a fee schedule, but we never saw a fee schedule."

Parenti said there are more than 200 occupancies that require some type of inspection on an annual, semi-annual or bi-annual basis.

"It's very important that the fire department be on top of (inspections) for all places of assembly," Parenti said.

Currently fire inspections are handled by on-duty staff, so there's no guarantee when the inspections will happen, and the lieutenants performing the inspections might follow slightly different guidelines.

"It's difficult to get consistency with just using on-call people," Parenti said, noting that the law allows for some leeway with inspections.

Parenti also said he would like to see more consistency with the department's involvement in Belmont's schools. During Fire Prevention Month, the department tries to get to events at Belmont's schools, but if they get a call they can't make it. School education is handled by various on-duty staff, and Parenti said he would give those responsibilities to the fire inspector should that position be created.

"There is no in-school fire prevention program," Parenti said. "That's not OK."

Selectman David Morse asked why the deputy fire chief couldn't handle the school education portion. Parenti said the deputy has plenty of ancillary duties he could be doing, and having one person assigned to the schools would allow for consistency. He would also like to expand the department's public services to include child car seat installations, and to address issues with seniors 65 and older. He said offering such services makes it easier to get federal grants.

Board Chair Ron Cormier suggested that Parenti add whatever he thinks is necessary to his preliminary budget and that it could be discussed more as they move through the budget process. Parenti penciled into his budget a half-year position for 2011, from July 1 to Dec. 31, "to help spread out the impact."

"This isn't going to be a very popular thing if the public thinks we're adding another fire position," Selectman Jon Pike said. "I realize it's a safety issue, but it's also what can we afford and what can't we afford."

Pike said he likes the idea of implementing a fee schedule.

Cormier said they were dealing with two separate issues, the fee schedule and the proposed fire inspector position. He also suggested that Parenti consider a part-time inspector.

Town Administrator Jeanne Beaudin reminded the board that there is still an open part-time field inspection position in the planning department and that perhaps planning and the fire department could come up with a job summary that could meet both departments' needs.

"(We would) need to be certain the zoning needs can flow with Chief Parenti's needs," Beaudin said.

Parenti said he'd be happy to look into that option and added that he "totally understands" cost concerns that taxpayers may have.

"My job is to tell you what we need," he said.

Pike said he has seen a "whole new positive vibe" in the fire department and that being proactive about these matters shows progression.

Martin Lord Osman
Brewster Academy
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