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Fire Dept. plan focuses on growth and the need for change

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Staff Writer

PEPPERELL — Town meeting voters in May unanimously approved borrowing $385,000 to purchase a new tanker truck for the Fire Department that will replace a tired 28-year-old vehicle.

Last month, fire officers sought selectmen and Finance Committee backing to pursue a $103,500 federal grant that would help pay the salary and benefits for a second full-time firefighter who would work Monday through Friday.

Both are part of a five-year draft plan that fire Chief Toby Tyler presented to the Finance Committee the evening he and deputy chiefs Peter Shattuck and Jim Straitiff ask for support for the grant.

These are the days of $500,000 homes, big mortgages, high insurance costs and a population that has reached 12,000.

They are also the days when the volunteer call Fire Department is in flux, strapped for manpower as members are forced to leave because of increased training demands and time spent away from families.

As Shattuck said, the department is holding its own but, unlike surrounding towns that have had full-time firefighters, there are times it is difficult to get the required minimum of four responders on the scene in a timely fashion until mutual aid can arrive.

Tyler said the five-year plan calls for an additional fire inspector in the near future.

Firefighters are, in the words of Finance Committee member Christopher DeSimone, doing their jobs by saying what is needed, even though, as Chairman Diane Gaspar said, budget overrides may soon be needed and tough choices made.

The plan

So what is in the plan?

A lot of education, more equipment, the use of proactive versus reactive measures, and encouraging fire safe and fire smart activities for starters.

The plan calls for educational programs to teach residents the extent of fire, rescue, and medical services offered by the department.

It increases mandatory training in public education, fire prevention, suppression, emergency medical services, rescue, and other activities. And it shoots for maintaining or decreasing response times that are expected by homeowners, while providing firefighters with the necessary equipment and supplies.

The Fire Department has grown from 15 regular call firefighters who train once per month to 42 member in three companies and 27 EMTs (12 only EMTs, 10 dual-role firefighters, four full-timers and one paid per diem) called 24 by seven.

Immediate needs include two full-time firefighters, a 2,500 gallon tanker (approved in May), replacement Scott air bottles (also approved), a feasibility study for a new addition or sub-station, and a revaluation of response.

One to five years

Within the next five years, specialty equipment must be replaced. The list includes ambulance one, stretchers and stairchairs, the department’s boat, Jaws of Life, and other rescue equipment.

A full-time captain/inspector and an administrative assistant should be hired. Two more full-time firefiighter/EMTs must be added. defibrillators replaced, and specialized equipment for water, confined space, and handling hazardous materials should be purchased.

Self contained breathing apparatus (SCBA packs), hoses, Opticom traffic controls, furniture, and more Scott air bottles must be purchased.

Also within five years, Engine 5 must be replaced, stations upgraded with fire alarms, space, and storage, and work must begin to either add to the Jersey Street station or build a substation.

A vehicle for the captain/inspector is planned, standard operating guidelines will be upgraded, as will departmental rules and regulations.

Each fiscal year, the Capital Projects Committee reviews capital “big ticket” (over $10,000) departmental requests projected out to seven years. Each is ranked urgent, necessary, or deferrable by the requesting department.

Fire Department requests for the current FY08 for example included the tanker truck and $10,000 for Scott air bottles. Another $10,000 will be sought for bottles in 2010.

In 2009, $30,000 will be sought for replacement firefighting gear and $2 million to renovate the Park Street station. Defibrillators would be replaced in 2009, costing $10,000.

Another $30,000 for replacement gear will be sought in 2010, as will $152,000 for a replacement ambulance and $20,000 for stretchers and stairchairs.

In the year 2011, three years from now, the five-year plan calls for purchase of a replacement for Engine 5, currently estimated to cost $350,000, and purchase of $30,000 more in replacement firefighting gear.

In 2012, a replacement forestry truck is scheduled, estimated to cost $75,000 to $80,000, and a new Zodiac boat would be purchased for an estimated $6,000 to $8,000.

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