, Newburyport, MA

February 22, 2013

Fire engineers seek full-time staff

Newburyport Daily News

---- — WEST NEWBURY — As part of a budget planning process for the upcoming fiscal year, selectmen are reviewing a request by the Board of Fire Engineers to fund an additional $100,000 in the fire department budget to accommodate some full-time staff during the day.

According to fire Chief Scott Berkenbush, the board is looking at a few different models for staffing, including two full-timers or four part-timers. The staffers would take care of the business end of the fire department and be on hand to cover calls that come in during the day. Increasingly, the department has found it difficult to get firefighters to respond to daytime calls because so many more of them are now working full-time jobs outside of town than had been the case in years gone by.

Berkenbush said he is not looking to replace the town’s call fire department, which relies on volunteers who are paid to respond to emergency calls that come in over their portable radios. Instead, he envisions more of a hybrid department with both full-time staff and call firefighters on board. Fire engineers have proposed a move toward some full-time staffing in the past, but their proposal was slashed from the warrant before it could get a vote on Town Meeting floor.

The proposed fire department salary line item for next year is $248,961. The fire department also seeks an expense budget of $159,754 for next year, down from $169,718 in actual spending that occurred in fiscal year 2012. In addition, the Public Works director is seeking $39,560 for repairs to the small secondary fire station located on Garden Street.

“We do need to consider changes to the way we operate, especially during the daytime,” said fire engineer Michael Dwyer. He vows to work closely with selectmen, the finance director and the Finance Committee “to investigate a viable option that is both cost-effective and serves a value and purpose to the town.”

Fire engineers were slated to present their plan to the Finance Committee this week and will continue their discussion on the staffing changes and the status of Garden Street Fire Station with selectmen next Wednesday.