By John Anderson
Here is a link to Part I
Prior to his retirement in 2002, Chief Roger Belhumeur fought for an increase in career personnel. Faced with decreasing numbers of call firefighters, he gained about 3 career firefighters every 2 year. This increase allowed the department to run an ambulance during weekdays in a unique public/private partnership with Patriot Ambulance, the Town’s contractor.
The largest increase in career personnel, however, goes back to 2003 when a fire occurred at the Lodge at Eddy Pond, and this is not the fire that made the papers. On Saturday, March 22, at 1:00 in the morning, a 911 call reported a dryer fire at 669 Washington St. While the fire was contained to a single dryer in the laundry room, the building was quickly filled with smoke. Chief William Whynot and Deputy Chief Tom Nault responded to the call along with a single call firefighter. There were no full-time firefighters on duty on a Saturday night.
Chief Whynot approached Town Administrator Charles O’Connor on Monday morning to begin the dialogue on adding career staff to the department so it would be staffed 24/7. At the May election, voters approved a Proposition 2-1/2 override to fund new career firefighters and staff both stations. The 8 new career firefighters hired allowed Headquarters to be staffed all the time and operate an ambulance in addition to fire protection, and up to 3 call firefighters would man the West St. station for 19.5 hours each day.
In 2005, the Town’s ambulance-working group made a proposal at the fall special town meeting to increase the number of career personnel by adding 6 firefighter paramedics in January of 2006 and an additional 4 in July of 2006. The desire to do this was motivated by three factors: the department wanted more control over the quality of EMS provided; current paramedics were not allowed to function at their high level of training; and the revenue stream from operating two paramedic ambulances would pay for the most of the increased personnel.
In a recent conversation, Chief Whynot (ret.) told Auburn Mass Daily, “The growth of the department was a cooperative effort between myself, Charlie O’Connor, Ed Kazanovicz, the unions, the selectmen, and the finance committee. No one person or group can take credit for it.”
Another factor that has caused the shift to career firefighters is the lack of call firefighters. Long gone are the days when young men were issued a rubber coat and boots and instructed to show up when the fire whistle blew. Also gone are people working in the town in which they reside. “In the day” local residents stopped their tractors on their farms, put down their shovels at the highway dept. or turned their customer over to another employee at Holstrom’s Market. Auburn is very much a commuting town, and people are not around during the day.
Additionally, long work hours give little incentive to get up at 3:00 in the morning for another alarm at the Auburn Mall. Add to that the fact that a recruit firefighter must put in 300 hours of initial training to prepare him for the job. Not many people have that type of time for the occasional call in today’s full-time fire service.
During our next installment, we’ll examine what has driven the increase in call volume and what the future holds.
(Writer’s Note: As I sat down to finish this article last night, AFRD posted on their Facebook page: “Shaping up to be a busy night. 6 calls in the last hour and a half.” This volume required 2 mutual aid ambulances and was before the snow really started.)