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Adams Fire Department Lowers Membership Age

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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ADAMS, Mass. — The Adams Fire Department has lowered its membership age from 21 to 19 in hopes of bolstering its aging and dwindling roster.
Fire Chief John Pansecchi said with recruitment numbers dipping into the 20s and less availability among current members, the Alert Hose Company is trying to open its doors to a younger generation.
"In the past two to three years, we have really been struggling to get new members and getting the current membership to respond to calls," Pansecchi said. "Pretty much every department is already doing it so we just had to get with the times, I guess."
Pansecchi said numbers haven't been the same since the 1970s but in the past eight or so years, recruitment numbers have sharply declined.
"I don't know what it is," he said. "A different generation, a different society. So now we are looking at different options."
Pansecchi said Adams is not alone, and volunteer departments throughout the region are challenged by shrinking memberships. He said many local departments have already made this change. 
The Adams company went as far as to create a Recruitment and Retention Committee to combat this trend.
Pansecchi said the department is able to bring on new members but often once firefighters age into their 30s and start having families, it is harder for them to commit their time.
"You get a guy that joins at 32 years old and he has a few kids and you encourage him to take firefighter 1 and 2," he said. "They just don't have the time. It is a 260-hour class driving back and forth to Springfield."
So this leaves a core group of older firefighters, many of whom do not have the energy to run out to every call and who are thinking about retirement. 
This does not help the increased calls many departments face these days. Although every call isn't a blazing structure fire or car accident, the modern fire department has more duties and a higher volume of responses.  
For Adams, the change also just makes sense in terms of the apprentice system. Pansecchi said the department can recruit new firefighters at 18. They come on as apprentices and mostly observe. 
After completing coursework and training, many have to wait up to three years before they are 21 and can be full firefighters.
"They get frustrated ... by the end of their first year they are ready to become members so they can do more, but they have to wait three years," he said. "It has been discouraging and some have left in between while others have held out. This will fast-track it."
Pansecchi said there are about 25 members in the department, not counting the five engineers. Optimally he would like between 50 and 60 members to properly cover the town. He admitted this is a bit of a pipedream.
"With the commitments people have these days and to truly put the manpower on scenes, we probably need 50 or 60 members," he said. "Will we see that? That is a doubt because we haven't been able to fill the roster since the '70s."
He said developing a solid roster between 30 and 35 would be a great start, where it has consistently been for years before.
Pansecchi felt a younger group of firefighters could be the spark the department needs. He hoped younger firefighters would have the time and energy to dedicate to the community and the department itself.
"At a younger age they don't have as many commitments and they have time to do it," he said.
He said starting younger could also open up different firefighting careers for many recruits exiting high school.
"You get them younger, and they get an opportunity to see if they like the service," he said. "We may only get them for four or five years because they may decide to move on to paid departments."
Moreover, Pansecchi said new recruits have the opportunity to become part of a brotherhood.
"It helps your community and the friendships and the comradery of the fire department is second to none," he said.
Those interested can contact the department at 413-743-1929 or via email.

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Adams Town Meeting OKs $16.2M Budget, Cannabis Zoning Amendment

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

Town Moderator Myra Wilk conducts the annual town meeting.
ADAMS, Mass. — The annual town meeting accepted 29 articles on Monday, including a $16.2 million fiscal 2022 budget and a zoning bylaw amendment that allows cannabis cultivators and manufacturers in the industrial park district.
There were 102 town meeting members in attendance outside at Bowe Field, or nearly two-thirds of the members. An overflow tent was set up beside the pavilion to accommodate additional people.
The meeting adjourned well before sundown, around 7:15 p.m. 
The FY22 budget of $16,228,113 is a minus 0.76 percent decrease from fiscal 2021, which had a bottom line of $16,348,818. The budget increases personnel costs by 1.25 percent and operational costs have decreased by 0.24 percent.
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