Fire Department requests increased staff hours

by Karina Coombs

The Personnel Board met with Carlisle Fire Chief David Flannery on January 17 to review his Fire Department budget requests for the coming fiscal year, FY14. Flannery is looking to increase the current funding for administrative support from five to ten hours per week next year. The Chief is also asking for an increase in personnel hours and wages to reflect the actual time worked by some members within the department. Total increases for FY14 are approximately $22,000 according to Flannery.

Administrative assistant

Last year, the Personnel Board and the Board of Selectmen (BOS) approved creation of a new part-time administrative assistant position within the Fire Department, for ten hours per week. However, the Finance Committee (FinCom) supported five hours per week, which was ultimately funded by Town Meeting.

In his discussion with the Personnel Board, during which he repeated his request for ten funded hours per week for FY14, Flannery explained that he had researched a number of Fire Departments within comparable neighboring communities. Dover and Sherborn, two communities of similar size and tax rate to those of Carlisle, budget between 15 to 25 hours per week for administrative help within their respective Fire Departments. Flannery noted that while the Carlisle department was unique and difficult to compare to others, he was unable to find a similar community and department with only five hours of administrative help each week. According to Flannery, “Five hours represents a third of what I need done.” Flannery gave the board notice that he anticipates asking for more than ten funded hours of administrative support for FY15.

Deputy chief, captain, EMS coordinator

Flannery also discussed increasing the hours for three key members of the department. He explained that the number of hours worked by the deputy chief, captain and EMS coordinator have increased over the last ten years, but compensation for these positions had not kept pace. Personnel Board Chair Diane Makovsky asked, “I see an increase of six hours for the deputy chief position and the captain went from eight to ten. You have a new administrative assistant. You are increasing both hours and rates. Where is the justification in terms of calls and [other duties] to represent this?” Flannery explained that the deputy, captain, EMS coordinator and lieutenant work hours they are not currently compensated for, bringing their hourly rate lower than the call rate of firefighters.

Flannery wants to more accurately report the number of hours worked. Says Flannery of his personnel, “They have expanded responsibilities. The deputy chief is in charge of the communication equipment. We have an on-call staffing system. Comparable towns do not have a system like ours. Dover and Sherborn call everyone and don’t know [whom] they are calling or if they are there. It is not cost effective and their budget is higher because of this. The deputy is responsible for maintaining that system and hardware and it is a big job and takes a significant amount of time in a week.”

In thinking ahead to future budgets, Makovsky asked Flannery if he was comfortable with the hours budgeted for various positions. Flannery noted that BOS and FinCom asked the same question. “There needs to be recognition as the community grows [things might change]. When we get Benfield that will increase inspections, phone calls, etc. As the population grows and new homes are built, that increases our responses and the inspections and review of fire prevention. Our Fire Department is paid as you go. Nobody is sitting and doing nothing. Paying for calls and hours spent taking care of department operations and administration has to be increased as we grow,” responded Flannery.

The board encouraged Flannery to try to pull together some data to show types of and numbers of calls over time in an attempt to track trends. Flannery said that he had already been doing this and has tracked medical calls for the past 25 years showing the town’s growth over time. The board suggested that Flannery might look into software applications that would pull reports from those data, explaining they might be helpful to FinCom when discussing budgets in the future.

Volunteers sought

At the conclusion of his presentation, Flannery mentioned that he currently has 25 members within the department with varying availability, but feels more comfortable when they are staffed at 30. Flannery also noted that a third of the department has been there more than 20 years, but that he sees a trend in new volunteers that has them leaving in significantly less time. Chief Flannery appeared before the Board of Selectman at its January 22 meeting. (See article on page 5.)

The Personnel Board is currently seeking two additional members. ∆