Fire Study: CFD Sees Major Flaws in Key Recommendations

The Chelsea Fire Department (CFD) said this week that it has detected major holes in a key recommendation from the Matrix Fire Study to streamline the department and reduce medical aid calls – specifically by relying more on a system of prioritization used by the City’s ambulance contractor.

Deputy Chief John Quatieri, Union President Brian Capistran and the Department’s Steering Committee issued a statement last weekend concerning the study and a meeting last Tuesday, April 23rd, before the City Council.

“The study did have some good points in regards to how the department’s managed,” said Quatieri. “Those recommendations are things we need to improve and the study gave us a good direction on which way to go. The operational side recommendations – we noticed right away there were holes there. We had other agencies look at the report and they said the same things about the operational recommendations.”

The Department’s concerns are specifically that the contract ambulance company is not doing well in handling such calls right now, under a new Emergency Medical Dispatch (EMD) system implemented last year.

“Our department, like every other Metro Fire Department , responds to request for medical assistance through the 9-1-1 system,” read the letter. “We are all aware of the current problems with Cataldo Ambulance EMD. Their response times are awful, they are going to the wrong addresses, not dispatching the proper resources, etc. The bottom line is professional firefighters are the largest providers of pre- hospital emergency medical care in the nation. Study after study shows that private companies cannot compete with the fire service when it comes to providing pre- hospital emergency medical care. By the end of this discussion (at the Council), (Matrix) agreed that reducing responses is most likely not the best option.”

One of the key findings in the study concerned the enormous amounts of calls for service by the Engine 2 fire crews out of the Downtown Station. There were 4,269 calls for Engine 2 in 2011, and that was 22 percent greater than the national standards of 3,500 per year. However, Matrix contended that 65 percent of those calls were medical related. One recommendation was to try to trim medical calls by fire crews.

However, CFD union officials said the reason the call volumes were so high on Engine 2 is that it covers a section of the city that used to be covered by multiple engines – engine companies that were reduced by staffing shortages.

“The true reason for such a high call volume was explained to the Council,” read the letter. “Engine 2 is covering a section of the City that was once covered by three engine companies – Central, Park Sq, and Everett Ave stations. The Councillors agreed and were very interested in exploring the possibility of adding a fourth engine company and building a new station in the Everett Ave/Spruce St/ Second St area.”

Fire officials said they believed that City Councillors do not believe that Matrix’s key recommendation about streamlining calls is the best solution.

“The Councillors clearly did not agree with streamlining calls as the answer to improving service to the citizens of Chelsea,” read the letter. “In fact one Councillor suggested the City go after some of the most dangerous facilities in the City for funding to help offset the cost of additional manpower and training.”

Fire Union officials also indicated that they, as well as some councillors, believed the Matrix study to be inaccurate – and that an official before the Council could not explain the simplest of questions.

“We were surprised, to say the least, as we listened to the City Council question the accuracy of the report,” read the letter. “In fact, one Councillor thought the report was misleading and confusing with regard to department manning. Mr Brady (of Matrix) was unable to answer the Councillors questions clearly and had trouble explaining the most basic fire department standards. One Councillor asked Mr Brady to explain the difference in operations between a three-man and a four-man engine company. Mr Brady explained in length how mutual aid could be relied on to supplement Chelsea Fire operations. He further explained that piece manning doesn’t matter as long as certain goals are met in under eight minutes as the NFPA standard requires. He was unaware that our mutual aid companies have never arrived on scene at a fire in Chelsea in under eight minutes.”

Fire officials also were confident that the Council agreed to the fact that staffing shortages are a problem, and that there is a need to increase the numbers within the department.

“We were able to answer the councillors questions by clearly explaining the responsibilities of an engine company on the fire ground,” read the letter. “We further explained the benefits of having a fourth firefighter on each engine and used the recent Congress Ave fire as an example. The Councillors understood the manning issue which then led to a discussion of adding additional manpower and possibly a fourth engine company. This discussion was started by the Councillors, not the fire department.”

City Manager Jay Ash said the next step in the process is to wait for Fire Chief Bob Better to submit recommendations to the City from the report.

“We’re just awaiting the chief’s discussion about the study’s implementation,” said Ash. “I’ve reviewed the study and have a lot of questions and may or may not agree about its local application. So, I’m waiting for the chief and then we’ll figure out what will be done.”

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