Letter to the Editor

We are an understaffed Fire Department

To the Editor:

After looking at the list of Top 100 salaries supplied to me, there is no doubt that the increase in salaries, as it relates to the fire department, resulted from the hiring and oversight of the additional engine company placed in service to accommodate the closing of the Washington Ave Bridge, which was closed to emergency vehicles as part of the Silver Line project.

 The decision to put this additional public safety equipment in service was made as a result of a fire safety analysis which was completed by Deputy Chief John Quatieri, along with other senior staff. This led to a request by the Fire Department to City officials (Jay Ash/Ned Keefe) for an additional engine company, staffed with an officer and two fighters, 24 hours a day while the bridge was closed, in order to meet the public safety needs of the community. The City successfully negotiated with MASSDOT to fund the cost of this additional engine company which was estimated at $1 million. No City tax dollars were used to fund the additional engine company (Engine 4), to supplement what we already know to be an understaffed Fire Department.

 The decision by senior staff to take such action was in the best interest of public safety for the citizens of Chelsea. Having the additional engine company at Central Station allowed the Fire Department to strategically divide the city into two divisions, using the commuter rail tracks as the dividing line, placing two engine companies and one ladder truck on each side of the bridge closure. This plan aided the fire department in meeting required response times throughout the city and a minimal number of firefighters on each side of the closure in the event of a structure fire.

Fire details are another contributing factor which increases the fire fighters’ salaries. City ordinances, along with Massachusetts General Laws, require placement of fire details throughout the city. For example, but not limited to, hot work at the Global Oil Terminal and/or the Gulf Fuel Terminal located on Eastern Avenue, sprinkler system shutdowns, and absentee landlords with rooming house conditions, all require a fire detail.

The third and most important reason for the increase in salaries is the one no one seems to want to hear.

The Chelsea Fire Department is understaffed.

My members, on average, work 80-plus hours a week because of the department’s lack of adequate staffing levels. I have requested,  multiple times in public forums, to increase the Fire Department’s staffing levels. The City has consistently ignored these requests and refuses to listen. What is most troubling is that instead of working to correct the problem; the city chooses to fabricate stories such as we abuse sick time. So the only reason the Fire Department exceeds the budgeted overtime is because of sick time? That is easily proven incorrect. The truth of the matter is that City government has failed the citizens of Chelsea by ignoring our continued requests for increased staffing. Staffing levels are currently the same as after the City went into Receivership in the early 1990s. All the while the population and development in the city continues to grow by tremendous levels.

Jay Ash would refer this to a “realization to a dream,” but we would refer it to mismanagement.

Brian Capistran

President, Local 937

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