State 10-mile Rule Riles Council, Public Safety Officials

City Councillors have entered into a major behind-the-scenes controversy this week for an order filed Tuesday that calls for the City to look into the strict enforcement of the public safety 10-mile radius rule.

The rule, which has been a state law for some 40 years, requires that all public safety workers – including police officers, firefighters and 9-1-1 call takers – live no further than 10 miles away from the municipality in which they work. The law has been amended numerous times over the years, but in the last five years has been inconsistently enforced statewide.

This week, several councillors decided that they wanted to begin enforcing that state law to the letter. On Tuesday, an order supported by a strong majority of the City Council was submitted for discussion at the upcoming June 3rd meeting.

That order stipulated that the City to begin enforcing the state 10-mile rule strictly, calling for every Chelsea public safety worker to move back in the 10-mile radius within six months or be terminated or forced to retire.

Councillor Giovanni Recupero was one of several councillors who backed the move, and he said the Council became concerned about the potential numbers of public safety officials living far away during the aftermath of the Marathon Bombings.

“It is really about public safety and the ability of our police and firefighters to get into Chelsea if there is a major disaster like the one at the Boston Marathon,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of major fires in Chelsea over the years, and if all firefighters had to get back here, I don’t think they could if they’re living 30 or 40 miles away. The Councillors want to make sure our residents are protected fully in the event that all hands need to be on deck. If you can’t get here, you can’t protect. That’s really what this is.”

Recupero was virtually the only one who would speak on the record, though.

That’s because the simple Council order hit at the heart of the City’s public safety community, and ignited an aggressive and rapid lobbying campaign of Council members.

There were alleged calls made to councillor’s homes, which is perfectly fine but rather rare in Chelsea politics.

There were discussions in City Hall.

Fire union officials descended upon the Clerk’s office for a copy of the order.

Police officials were said to be “anonymously” tipped off immediately after the order was filed.

The Record attempted to contact superior officers and union officials from the Police and Fire Departments on Tuesday, but none were able to make comment prior to deadlines on Wednesday.

Before the order was even 24 hours old, it was nearly threatened with extinction. The hopes of it seeing the light of the Council Chambers next Monday still appears to be in jeopardy.

Now, with the lobbying campaign in full force, many councillors are backing away from their initial support of the order due to the fact that many public safety workers could be affected in a major way.

One councillor, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that the matter will likely go to a Subcommittee on Conference next Monday to test the waters and get more information.

Another Councillor, also speaking off the record, said that the matter has hit at the heart of the public safety community due to the fact that so many live so far away from Chelsea. That councillor indicated that City figures in the Council’s possession showed that at least 40 percent – and perhaps as many as 50 percent – of the City’s public safety workers live outside of the 10-mile radius. Some 10 percent live more than 25 miles away, that councillor contended. A handful, allegedly, are supposedly living out of state in New Hampshire.

The Record could not immediately confirm those numbers independently with City officials before deadlines.

Nevertheless, one Fire Department superior officer, while off duty and commuting to work last year, was credited with heroically saving the life of a woman on the South Shore who had wrecked her car on Rt. 3. Within that story it was mentioned that the firefighter lives in Marshfield – which is more than 30 miles from Chelsea. That story appears to have been the beginnings of rumblings about the issue on the Council.

The matter was first breached publicly by City Councillor Matt Frank last week during City Budget hearings. Frank asked Fire Chief Bob Better to provide the Council with the numbers of firefighters who live outside of the City and the number who live outside the 10-mile radius. That is apparently what gave legs to the current Council Order controversy – as councillors soon learned, allegedly, that many public safety workers live well-beyond the radius.

Yet another councillor – also speaking off the record – added that tense discussions and state arbitration in the recent Firefighters Contract also were not yet forgotten. He pointed to the fact that – just last month – Fire Union officials were quoted in the Record as calling for the City Council and the City Manager to respect the collective bargaining process and the state law regarding arbitration rulings.

“They called on us to respect the state law when it involved their contract and now if we want to call on them to respect the state law, they have moved to stop that effort?” said the councillor. “You can’t have it both ways.”

City Manager Jay Ash took a step back from the controversy and said that the issue may be overblown. He said that the 10-mile rule is state law, but it isn’t as necessary as it was when first enacted as a law. He said better roadways, faster communications/technology and better mutual aid cooperation have kind of made the rule less meaningful. In fact, he said there is currently an effort underway on Beacon Hill to lenthen the radius to 35 miles.

“The law has not been uniformly enforced statewide over the decades, as better mutual aid, improved roadway systems and overall communications have not really required ‘call backs’ for the regular types of emergencies we would typically expect, like multiple alarm fires or manhunts,” said Ash. “However, some believe ‘a law is a law,’ so I’ve been reviewing the practice to determine if we should take any action. I know there is an effort at the State House to provide communities with the ability to decide for themselves if this is an important need and how to treat it. As my review has continued, and as I’ve waited for some action, or rejection, from the State House, some Councillors want to go forward and implement the law. I believe Council is planning on taking it up, and I’ll work with them to determine what are the options going forward.”

At this point, the matter is still scheduled to be discussed at the June 3rd meeting, but could very well be removed from the agenda prior to the meeting.

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