Shrewsbury Fire Department Faces Budget Woes

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Without enough staff to maintain Shrewsbury fire hydrants, the hydrants have become increasingly difficult to open in an emergency, according to the town's fire chief. Photo Credit: John Swinconeck

SHREWSBURY, Mass. – With Shrewsbury facing a flat-funded budget for fiscal year 2014, the fire department is looking at staffing shortages at a time when the fire chief said it needs more personnel.

Chief Jim Vuona said his department needs another full-time fire prevention officer to conduct safety inspections. For the second year, Vuona said, he has requested additional staff, but said he is doubtful he will get the $85,000 needed to fund the position.

“We really need somebody that can be here Monday through Friday,” Vuona said. “I don’t have money in my budget to ask people to come in for overtime.”

The department has submitted its budget to Selectmen, and has also received a  “We’ve gotten two budgets from the town manager,” Vuona said. “One is to maintain what we have now – 36 firefighters. Another is to reduce the department by two positions. This is all preliminary, based on worst-case scenarios.”

The staffing and a hydrant issue was brought to light at the Shrewsbury Advocates first public meeting.

One fallout from staff reductions is the lack of maintenance of the town’s fire hydrants, which have become increasingly difficult for firefighters to open, according to Vuona.

The water department formerly had staff to specifically maintain the hydrants. However, over the past few years, as department budgets have been cut, staff has dwindled.

Vuona said he’s had to purchase larger wrenches to unscrew the caps, and when that fails, the caps must sometimes be broken off with a sledge hammer. According to Vuona, when there’s an emergency, there is no time for a more delicate solution.

“When a hydrant doesn’t work and there’s a fire – that’s a dangerous game,” he said, noting that a fire can double in size within 30 to 60 seconds.

The trouble with the hydrants has been brought to the attention of the town manager, and Vuona said needed maintenance will be done by the water department’s summer staff.

The town’s finance committee will make the ultimate recommendation for all departments to Town Meeting representatives in May.

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SomeGuy:

DanB that's a great question. Because a department like Shrewsbury is so short staffed, when they do such non emergency things such as inspections or training, they need to travel with everything needed for an emergency. For example when they take a firetruck and 2 fireman to do an inspection, they may need to respond to an emergency from that inspection. It would be unwise to go back to the fire station to get the truck.

Most departments have staff positions, or positions set aside for non emergency tasks. In Shrewsbury the fireman who do the emergency calls do everything else too.

DanB:

Great answer - thanks!

DanB:

Question: Firefighters are the first responders in any emergency. For non-fire emergencies, why does a fire truck have to be dispatched? It seems like such a waste of funds to take such a large vehicle out when nothing proprietary about a fire truck will be used to handle the emergency. I am not an educated firefighter, so maybe there is a good reason, but I've always wondered why a car couldn't be used (like a specialized fire car similar to a police car) instead. This isn't a sarcastic "I think I know everything so I will vomit my snarky stance online" question - I'd really like to know if someone else does. Thanks!

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