17 November 2006


The FD has had some major upheaval this year. This spring the anti-tax crowd converged on town meeting, slashed the town budget, and elected anti-tax candidates to the town council. Since then, department heads (except the police who seem to be exempt) have been fighting an uphill battle for control of their own departments and the money to keep them running.

FD started the budget year by cutting their budget almost 3% before town meeting. With the level funding from last year translating into another 3.5% cut, the chiefs sat down to make some major changes. Overtime call-back - time that off-duty and call ffs come in to cover the station while the on-duty crews are out on calls - was slashed to nearly nothing, the engine from the south end of town now drives to central station to cover when that engine goes out instead of off-duty ffs coming in. The department had capital funds for a new rescue truck this year and had spec'd it out, gotten all the estimates, and just needed final approval from the council. Instead, they were told to slash 10% off the truck, and when they did, they were told just to scrap the plan and wait until some other budget year because the truck was "not necessary".

This environment encouraged the chief to retire, with about 5 weeks notice, and allowed the council to appoint whomever they wanted as the acting chief while a "search" started. They promoted a captain (over three chiefs), posted the position with the publicly stated intention of not spending a dime to find candidates and stating that they weren't going to hire anyone who wasn't willing to work to continue to reduce the budget. I don't have an opinion on whether the captain is qualified or a good candidate because I just don't know enough about it (opinion through the department seems mixed), I just find the process to be very strange when you take someone with no experience and thrust them into a position of authority in the late stages of the critical budget process for next year.

What does this have to do with me? Beyond K's overtime salary cut, the department is now looking to have call ffs and ambulance volunteers fill regular shifts when full-time people are out sick or on vacation because they will not be earning overtime, just regular pay. The council is of the opinion that more volunteers is the solution to the budget problem because everybody wants to work for free (or cheap at most). K honestly came home and asked me whether I would keep volunteering with the department if these changes happen. I told him I didn't know. I know I would not go in and work a shift to cover a full-time person so the town doesn't have to pay overtime. I'm not qualified or interested. Apparently the word is out among the call ffs though that there will be a mass exodus rather than helping the council slash the budget like that.

There are several critical facts the council is forgetting. Many of the volunteers/call ffs are paid ffs somewhere else, so they are all part of the same union and they aren't going to undermine the union here in town. All the EMS volunteers and call ffs have other full-time jobs, so it is unlikely they would be available to pick up shifts when called at 0700 for an 0800 start time. And most importantly, the department has been actively recruiting for new volunteers/call ffs for years and very few people have the time and commitment to work for free for an extended period of time, so there isn't a huge pool of people to pick from and those that are here are (as a general rule) much less experienced than the full-time members.

Right now, I'm falling on the side of wanting to keep doing what I've been doing (at least until I get into school) and let other people hash out the bigger issues. No covering daytime stuff, just one night a week and every fifth weekend. I'm concerned about getting even more crap about not supporting the union and such, like I did when I started volunteering, but until and unless K specifically asks me not to volunteer with the FD, this is the way I'd like to make a contribution to my community.

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