The Wenham Fire Department should hire a full-time firefighter and make the chief a full-time position, according to an eight-month long study of the department.
The results of the study were presented in an hour-long presentation to the Wenham Board of Selectmen on Tuesday night at Wenham Town Hall. A complete copy of the study is posted to the town of Wenham website and attached to this story as a PDF.
Currently, the fire department is made up of 25 “call” members, who work part-time are paid for their time when they respond, plus a full-time fire prevention officer and a 30-hour a week chief position.
The study recommended hiring a full-time firefighter to help cover during the day and also come up with a schedule for the call firefighters to man the station during key hours – late afternoon and early evening.
The proposal would cost an additional $113,000 in fiscal 2014, taking the Fire Department budget from $501,000 to $614,000, said Michael Lucy, a member of the study committee.
The study called the recommendation a "hybrid" of part-time and full-time. It also considered making no changes, moving to a full-time department and pursuing regionalization or a merger with the Hamilton Fire Department. Lucy said the hybrid model was "full compatible" with merging with Hamilton in the future, something he said he been discussed in the past.
The challenges facing the department include not enough firefighters responding to calls, in some cases, and an increased response time.
Over the past year, an average of nine firefighters responded to a call.
“In a fire situation nine is not enough to put out a fire,” Fire Chief Bob Blanchard said. He served on the study committee.
Additionally, Blanchard said it is taking longer to get enough firefighters to a call. While the average response time is 5-1/2 minutes, that is the time for the first responder to arrive. It is a “deceiving number,” Blanchard said, since it is taking longer to get the needed number of firefighters at a call.
Blanchard said 5 of the department’s 27 firefighters live in Wenham and on July 1 that will drop to four because of the Wenham residents will retire.
“That puts pressure on response time,” Blanchard said.
The committee presented ways to fund the budget increase, including using $40,000 in savings from the town's move to the regional dispatch center in Middleton, $35,000 in payments-in-lieu-of-taxes from Gordon College, $20,000 from billing insurance companies after car crashes and $20,000 in additional revenue from the Penguin Hall development.
“Each of these sources place no additional burden on the taxpayer,” said Town Administrator Mark Andrews, who served on the committee.
Molly Martins, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said that the savings from the move to regional dispatch had already been included in the fiscal 2014 budget, which is currently under review by the Finance Advisory Committee.
Lucy encouraged the board to “chew it over” and include the recommendations in this fiscal 2014 budget.