Since Monday, Dedham Engine 4 has been taken out of service due to lack of funding which has caused firefighters and citizens to cry foul and demand the Town Administrator to take corrective action to keep the vital piece of equipment in service at all times.
In a statement made by Dedham Firefighters Local 1735 President Stephen MacDougall, the Board of Selectmen and Town Administrator have ignored requests to fill vacancies created by retirements with full time new recruits opting to staff them with overtime.
MacDougall explains that due to the usual number of injuries that occur with the hazards of firefighting combined with the number of vacancies within the ranks have caused overtime expenses to skyrocket and depleting the budget to cover the manpower.
The solution to the budget crisis and cut the cost of overtime by the Town Administrator and Board of Selectmen is to “brown out” or remove a fire engine from service during the 8am to 6pm day tours Mondays through Thursdays for the foreseeable future, a move which firefighters and the public both say presents a danger to public safety.
Normally the Dedham Fire Department operates three engine companies and a ladder truck, all staffed with one fire officer and two firefighters. There are 61 firefighters that are divided into 4 working groups that are on duty 24 hours and then off for 72 hours each.
The primary responsibility of an engine company at a fire is to provide a water supply but it only carries 500 gallons of water in the tank which is normally drained within minutes unless a supplemental supply of water is obtained from a fire hydrant which takes time but more importantly manpower.
However, fire apparatus not only responds to fires but more commonly medical calls, traffic accidents, hazardous materials incidents, downed electrical wires, bomb scares and many other incidents that pose a direct threat to public safety. Average response time from the receipt of a call for help to arrival time is on average 3-5 minutes which is crucial to mitigating any type of hazard or saving a life.
Dedham is a small town in terms of actual land mass measuring at a total area of 10.6 square miles and has a population of 24,729 residents according to the 2010 census. The town is a mixed residential, industrial and business community boasting two large shopping malls, industrial parks, major hotels, two major highways, 8,654 household and 8.902 housing units.
Engine 4, the affected company, is quartered at the Dedham Square firehouse and is first due to calls in the Riverdale neighborhood and Precinct 1. When out of service, one of the remaining two engines or the ladder must cover that district as well as their own first due response area. Should those fire companies not be available due to other ongoing emergencies in the town, mutual aid is required to respond from a neighboring community such as Needham. Westwood, Boston, Milton or even further, thus creating a delay resulting in the spread of fire or crucial lost minutes providing aid to a sick or injured person and reducing the chances of a full recovery or even survival.
The Dedham Fire Department answered 6,248 emergency calls in 2011. Of those 188 were fires and 3,028 were emergency medical responses. On average the department responds to 17 calls a day.
In a November 18 editorial published on a hyperlocal Dedham news site, an editor called for the reduction of fire engines in the town and an increase of ambulances staffed by Basic Emergency Medical Technicians, a move he claimed would save the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes. What this editor fails to consider are several issues that make his proposal laughable and unfeasible.
First the reduction of an engine company, as stated, creates a significant delay in response times to emergencies. Second, even adding an ambulance to the mix in place of a fire engine will still not solve any problems due to the simple fact EMS services alone provided by contract Fallon Ambulance Service would not be able to handle the call volume on their own. In the case of fire, the longer it takes to arrive creates a delay in extinguishing the fire as well as search and rescue efforts that could create a rise in fire related fatalities to both civilians and firefighters alike.
The other negative impact to the town is that the higher the property loss from fire raises insurance rates and decreases property value.
Yesterday, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick announced a $540 million budget shortfall that will result in $9 million in cuts to aid local communities to fund firefighter and teacher salaries.
These cuts could not have come at a worse time for communities as an alleged arson spree is ongoing on the South Shore with at least 19 suspicious fires in various communities over recent weeks.
To the firefighters and citizens of Dedham, they feel the tactics to reduce costs made by the town government is literally playing with fire and placing a dollar value on lives.