Report: Combine Amherst fire, EMS

AMHERST – Amherst should combine its fire and emergency medical service departments in a single location with a single leader, says a report from Municipal Resource Inc. released last month.

The consultant’s report also says the town should try hard to preserve its on-call fire department and said there is no need for a paid department.

Amherst has two full-time fire officers and one part-time fire lieutenant and an on-call staff, with “a healthy complement of about 40 firefighter and fire officers,” MRI reported, and the on-call service “provides an exceptional level of service and value to the community.

Consultants do not feel a “24/7 initial response career force is required based on the ‘vibrant’ nature of the existing on-call department.

“Preserving this service delivery methodology should be a primary goal,” according to the report.

Selectmen commissioned the report after a daytime propane leak in an apartment complex. On-call Amherst fire department staff were not available, and the Milford Fire Department responded.

Then-Amherst Fire Chief Mark Boynton had also warned about a growing problem with fire response.

The MRI report recommends the town encourage, but not require, cross-training of fire and ambulance workers.

“Not all firefighters want to provide EMS and not all EMS providers want to enter a burning building,” it reads.

MRI also noted that current staff vacancies – Deputy Fire Chief Matt Conley is acting as interim chief and EMS director Brian Gleason resigned last year – “provides a unique opportunity for restructuring.”

Selectmen’s Chairman Dwight Brew said in a phone interview that the board will discuss the report on Jan. 26 and is looking for public input.

The board has accepted the report, but that “doesn’t mean we agree with everything,” he said.

Selectmen “actively encourages members of the fire department, EMS and the public” to comment,” he said. “I think it’s likely that the board will be going forward with some of the recommendations,” but will hold off until it receives public input.

For example, he said, the board wants to hear from both departments on the question of whether there should be one leader for fire and EMS.

The fire department is “bucking national trends” in that it is able to recruit on-call firefighters, he said, and EMS is providing very good coverage.

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