Chelsea Fire Department Goes Under the Microscope: Outside Company Will Perform Operational Review

The Chelsea Fire Department will receive a top to bottom operational review this fall to see what services, if any, can be trimmed down.

City Manager Jay Ash said that the City has put out a bid seeking a company to do a full review of all operations at the Fire Department. The review is expected to get underway next month.

While getting the review is non-controversial, implementing its findings might not be such a popular thing – especially with the Fire Department’s union.

“The idea we’re going to do the review isn’t controversial, but what we do with some of the suggestions might be,” said Ash. “I expect what will come back is them telling us that if you want to provide a certain level of coverage, you have to have a department staffed and funded a certain way. The question will be whether or not this will be affordable to us or not.”

Ash said the situation with the Fire Department is much like the Post Office, which is in the middle of a major reorganization that includes closing numerous Postal Office branches.

The crux of that reorganization, he said, is that there are fewer letters being mailed and fewer people using Post Office branches. Thus, the level of service isn’t cost effective.

The same may be true for the Fire Department in Chelsea, which has seen a dramatic decrease in fires over the last several decades.

“This eventually all leads to looking at those levels of service we provide and what, if anything, could change,” said Ash. “In the Fire Department fires are down, but still you don’t staff fire departments on the number of fires, but rather on the risk you have. For someone who was in the middle of the 1973 Fire as a 12-year-old, I do understand the risk. I also understand that there is some reduction in risk from those days with smoke detectors and sprinkler systems and fire suppression systems. But our risk is one thing we have to keep in mind.”

The idea of the review came out of discussions over cutting overtime for the Fire Department. Discussions between Ash and the Fire Union about overtime led to the suggestion of an independent review of the practice.

Ash decided to expand it to encompass the entire firefighting menu.

“During those discussions the union suggested we were underfunding overtime and that a study of the department would help guide the services we offer and the costs,” said Ash. “I decided to expand this to look at the whole operation and help guide us as we go forward in tight financial times. We need to look how to be as efficient as we can and as the nature of firefighting changes, take a look at what practices are best.”

In other Fire Department matters, City leaders indicated that the Mill Hill Fire Station reconstruction project is still on the table.

Ash said that they are just about ready to break ground on the project and to get started.

The project is expected to last two years.

Search for a Fire Chief put on hold 

City Manager Jay Ash announced this week that his search for a permanent Fire Chief has been suspended as a result of the top to bottom review of the department.

Interim Chief David Lafond will continue until the results of the study are revealed.

“I have suspended my search for a permanent fire chief and have asked the temporary fire chief to stay on while we do this study. I figured that we could do this new study and let it help a new chief as they come in.”

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