Friday, February 4, 2005
Upton, MA has it both ways:full-time and on-call firemen
For a reality check and a different perspective, the Mosquito called Michael Bradford, Fire Chief in Upton, MA. Upton, a town with a larger land area (21.7 square miles versus Carlisle's 15.5) and a similar population/housing size (6,000 people/2,000 units versus Carlisle's 5,300 people/1,700 units). Upton had a more than 95% on-time response rate, according to the Globe, with a fire department budget of $399,637. Bradford uses a mix of professional and volunteer firefighters, but it's unclear whether that town's template would work for Carlisle.
Bradford has three full-time firefighters plus himself to handle calls during the day (7 a.m. to 5 p.m.), with a force of 25 volunteers taking over at night. Volunteers also provide the second response team. The town has an extensive fire prevention program that includes SAFE (Student Awareness for Fire Exit) education from pre-school through the grades, programs for seniors, and a Junior Fire Academy one week summer program for kids.
Though he admits sometimes only two firefighters are available to get to a fire initially (one driving the ladder truck and one a rescue vehicle), Bradford believes there is value in getting even a few firefighters to a fire quickly, if only to scope it out and decide if more are needed. "This town can't afford an all-professional department," he says and calls the mix "definitely successful."
When asked about the difficulty of mixing volunteers and professionals, Bradford agrees this is a problem in many departments. He circumvented it by hiring from the call ranks.
And there is the rub: Upton, with an average family income of $89,251 is still a town in which a firefighter can afford to live. How likely is it that a Carlisle call volunteer (who presumably has a job that allows him to live in a town with an average income of $142,350) would be interested in a firefighter's salary?
Perhaps, were Carlisle to go pro, we would have to hire outside, taking on all the availability and volunteer retention problems Chief Flannery described in the accompanying article. Perhaps Upton is not a perfect model for Carlisle.
© 2005 The