Attend meeting on MRI’s report

We’ve heard it for years and in towns throughout the region: There is a growing problem with response time from essentially all-volunteer fire departments.

There is, of course, an element of truth to that, or else we wouldn’t have been hearing about it for all these years. Indeed, perhaps the most recent such concern came in Amherst where, several months ago, a daytime propane leak in an apartment complex forced a call for help from the Milford Fire Department because on-call Amherst firefighters weren’t available.

And that followed a warning from then-Fire Chief Mark Boynton that there was a growing problem with fire response. Again, nothing that hadn’t been heard before.

This time, though, the Board of Selectmen decided not to rely upon anecdotal evidence but to commission Municipal Resources Inc. to look into the situation and issue a report. MRI did just that and, last month, its report was released.

At least a bit surprisingly, given the concern about response time, MRI said there wasn’t a need for a “24/7 initial response career force …” because the current on-call force was “vibrant” in nature. That’s good.

Then, in consultant-speak which, of course, is vastly different from every day language, the report said, “Preserving this service delivery methodology should be a primary goal.” What is meant by “delivery methodology” is volunteers racing to the station when the alarm goes off and then racing to the scene of a fire or accident or what have you.

In other words, if we dare to interpret, the current system is working well enough to assuage concerns, so don’t change it, don’t go to a full-time, paid fire department. Okay.

Taxpayers should breath a sigh of relief because a paid, full-time force would, of course, be far more costly than the department Amherst has and as long as the town is safe – and MRI’s report clearly indicates that it is, otherwise it would have suggested serious change – then why switch?

Another interesting aspect to the report is MRI’s suggestion that Amherst combine fire and emergency medical service departments. This, too, is something we’ve heard in other communities and something that seems to be becoming popular, at least in concept if not in actuality, at least not yet.

Good idea? Bad idea?

We’re pretty sure firefighters and ambulance personnel have some strong opinions and we think some of you do, too.

And you’ll get a chance to express them on Jan. 26 when the selectmen host a public forum on MRI’s report. It’s one you should attend because, said selectmen’s Chairman Dwight Brew, the board wants a lot of input. Until they get it, selectmen are taking a pondering attitude because, as Brew said, accepting the report “doesn’t mean we agree with everything.” That’s good, too.

But it’s important for the board to know how the community feels. Do you feel safe with your current department? That, we think, is the primary issue for residents. The combining of fire and ambulance would seem to be more of an issue, when it comes to making a decision, for the experts, to wit, firefighters, ambulance personnel and town officials. We, as laymen, can have an opinion but it is unlikely to be as informed as the opinions of those who do the jobs.

And very important jobs they are.

MRI is well-respected throughout the state and is often used by communities to help in making important decisions. Its report should go a long way toward helping Amherst decide the best course of action.

But your opinions count, too. Never forget that.