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Adams Fire District Sets Virtual Review of Organizational Study

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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ADAMS, Mass.— The Fire Department will hold a virtual meeting to go over some findings from the recent Organizational Assessment and Strategic Plan that could inform some changes within the Fire District.
 
The Fire District has scheduled a virtual meeting on Tuesday, July 27, at 6:30 p.m. over the Zoom platform to take a deeper look into the completed plan and potential timelines.
 
"I really want to see the public join in on this Zoom meeting," Fire Chief John Pansecchi said. "It is important that they hear about this report and see that these problems are consistent across the country."
 
Municipal Resources Inc. of New Hampshire was hired to review the fire and rescue services provided to the town. The group developed a target hazard analysis, reviewed response metrics, evaluated the current facility, apparatus, budget, and conducted a number of interviews with various stakeholders.
 
The document also put forth some recommendations believed to improve the department and the services to Adams as well as sure up the department's longevity and efficiency.
 
This is the first time the Fire Department has undergone such an assessment, but Pansecchi said he saw nothing he didn't already know.
 
"I have done my own research over the years, and I can tell you from reading past studies the information is pretty much consistent with departments of similar sizes," he said. "I didn't find any surprises." 
 
The full 112-page report can be found here. The report includes a narrative and discussions with different stakeholders. More conclusively, the document includes a lengthy list of 63 recommendations that range from structural changes to planning initiatives. 
 
A broader list of conclusions is included towards the end of the document. They are:
  1. Development of a staffing model that includes a salaried full-time fire chief and per diem coverage during peak hours to meet increasing emergency service demands and address dwindling response resources;
  2. Planning for facility replacement;
  3. Development of an apparatus and equipment capital improvement plan (CIP);
  4. Develop a revenue stream that will support the needs of a modern-day fire service organization;
  5. Development of a strategic plan which can serve the District as a roadmap to chart the future of the organization.
The report also included an involved implementation timeline.
 
A few of the recommendations have come up among the Fire District membership before, including making the fire chief position full time.
 
In 2019, Fire District voters shot down the proposition to bump the part-time fire chief position up to full time. With more duties beyond just fighting fires, Pansecchi, who also has a full-time job, said a full-time person was needed in the office. 
 
Pansecchi reiterated that moving to a full-time chief has nothing to do with him. He said when he asked for the change in 2019, he budgeted the lower amount on the salary scale. He added that the Prudential Committee could hire whomever it wanted to be the chief.   
 
The plan also recommends creating per diem positions to cover busier times of the day when coverage is spotty and inconsistent
 
"I don't have people that are qualified that can commit to every Monday or every Tuesday," Pansecchi said. "I have people who may have the day off, but they have overtime or something else comes up. It is tough. They work when they can."
 
He added that it is also difficult to find this consistent coverage with a shrinking department. This is another recommendation within the plan, to more aggressively pursue recruitment and retention.
 
"We are seeing our numbers drop continuously. We are not desperate yet," he said. "... We are losing firefighters. We get them trained, they spend a few years here, and then they move out of town."
 
The report did point out that many of the firefighters are much older and edging closer to retirement. The report said there is an incoming leadership gap.
 
Pansecchi said all of the department's engineers are in their 50s or 60s. He said some members are in their 70s. He said fighting fires is a "younger person's game" and once volunteers hit the age of 65 they take on a more supportive role.
 
Be that as it may, when this group retires there will be a loss of institutional knowledge and leadership without abundant younger firefighters coming up through the ranks.
 
"The future is scary when you look at it," he said. "Hopefully some of these new guys develop into good firefighters down the road."
 
He said this is a problem volunteer departments throughout the country are facing. He said in the past year they have implemented more aggressive recruitment in line with what the report recommends.
 
The plan does recommend creating a captain position that would lead this effort 
 
The plan also urged the department to explore new revenue streams. Specifically starting a conversation with the town about extending fire protection fees outside of the fire district.
 
Currently, Fire District members pay a fee for fire protection services. Properties outside of the water district do not pay any fee but still receive fire services. 
 
Pansecchi said in other like communities, a fire service fee is connected directly to the municipalities taxes. The district did bring this up to the town a few times, however to no avail. 
 
"There does not seem to be much enthusiasm to go that way, but I think it would be easier with town-wide billing," he said. "We can't bill people outside of the district so it would have to go through the town, and that has not worked out in previous discussions."
 
The report also recommends improving communication with the prudential committee, improving documentation and inventory records, and further planning. 
 
Pansecchi said these problems are not specific to Adams and, in fact, cited Williamstown who had the same company conduct a similar report.
 
"If you read it it is almost identical," he said. "They are a similar-sized community, and they have taken a lot of these steps already. They have a full-time chief." 
 
Pansecchi said some of the recommendations are already underway while others will take time. Some of the larger items will come down to a vote, such as the full-time chief position that the report recommends the department sort out within the year 
 
He was happy that an independent source backed what he and his team have believed for some time now but said it was important to have a transparent conversation with the membership about the future of the Fire District and department.
 
"They really need to know where we stand and what the future is gong to bring ... and hopefully we can change some minds over time," he said. "That is the big thing. Be here, pay attention to the presentation, and ask questions because the future of the department depends on it." 

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Adams Board of Health to Rewrite COVID-19 Directive

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
ADAMS, Mass. — The Board of Health will rewrite its COVID-19 Public Health Directive to establish more clarity in the advisory document.
 
The board said it will reconsider some of the wording and content, and Chairman David Rhoads agreed to pass the advisory document off to member Peter Hoyt.
 
"I guess what we are reiterating is what we have been saying for the past 15 months: wear a mask, wash your hands, social distance, and by the way there is a vaccine out there," Hoyt said. "... I think what we are trying to do is just reiterate that we don't want things to spiral out of control again."
 
On Sept. 9, the Board of Health held an emergency meeting to discuss the directive that asks the town to re-up its efforts to combat COVID-19 with more stringent mask and sanitation policies.
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