Amherst hiring consultant to study fire-EMS merger

AMHERST – A consulting firm will help the Amherst Board of Selectmen look at the issue of merging fire and ambulance services.

Municipal Resources Inc., of Concord, would provide “an outside perspective” about whether the departments should merge, Selectman John D’Angelo said at the May 12 board meeting.

If MRI recommends a merger, he said, they will also advise the town “how do we do it without injuring ourselves.”

The consulting firm will provide a detailed cost analysis of possible scenarios, including leaving the departments as they are, he said.

“No options are off the table,” he said, including a merger with the police department, although that kind of merger is rare in New Hampshire.

The town should also solicit public input when selectmen are closer to an idea of what they want to do, he said.

The number of fire calls in Amherst and in most cities and towns around the country have decreased in recent years – because of better buildings, better safety education and other improvements – and many of them are combing services.

When EMS Director Brian Gleason presented his strategic plan to selectmen last fall, he said blending the services can be a challenge if a fire department isn’t trained for emergency services. But he also said Amherst has been very successful over the years in the cross-training of police, fire and EMS personnel.

Most towns have the two departments merged, and “they seem to do just fine,” said D’Angelo, who brought the consultant proposal to the board.

The town is in the process of looking for a new chief, since Mark Boynton has left to become fire chief in Townsend, Mass.

Amherst is one of the few remaining New Hampshire towns with a population more than 10,000 that continues to provide fire protection with a predominantly paid-on-call (volunteer) fire department.

The Amherst Fire Department is considered a combination department, meaning it is made up of some full-time and one part-time personnel who work weekdays, but all remaining members are paid-on-call and receive some compensation but are essentially volunteers.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100, ext. 304, or kcleveland@
cabinet.com.