MBTS Town Officials Playing with Fire – Part 1


To The Editor,

The following is Part 1 of a letter I sent to Town Officials on February 16 regarding the insufficient and unsafe staffing levels of the Manchester Fire Department.  Part 2 of the letter addresses the lack of fully operational front-line fire trucks and will be in next week’s Cricket.

February 16, 2023

Subject: Fire Department Staffing and Resources

Dear Select Board, Town Administrator and Finance Committee,

As I did in May of 2017, I am writing again to express my concerns, regarding the current insufficient staffing levels of the Manchester Fire Department (MFD) and about the lack of fully operational front-line fire trucks.

In the 10.5 years since Fire Chief Paskalis retired, there have been six Fire Chief changes: Loomer, Rogers, Beardsley, Kramlinger, Beardsley (again) and now Chief Cleary.  All have raised staffing level concerns to the Town Administrator and Select Board.  I discussed my concerns of inadequate and unsafe staffing levels with Chiefs Beardsley, Rogers, and Kremlinger and sent a letter to the Town Administrator and Board of Selectmen in 2017.  I received responses from two Selectmen.

The Town hired MRI Consultants in 2009 and again in 2015 to conduct an analysis of the MFD.  While some of the reports’ recommendations have been implemented, we still do not meet the Federal requirements of the two-in/two-out rule.  The report also stated that NFPA 1710 requires a minimum first alarm assignment of 13 personnel on scene within eight minutes of a reported structure fire, 90 percent of the time.  With only three firefighters on duty per shift, there is an extraordinary and unnecessary level of risk for the firefighters, residents, and property.

The level of risk, that the Town officials are setting for its residents and businesses, requires clear and honest communication.  Everyone needs to understand his or her personal risk.  Most residents probably believe that if they need the fire department for a fire emergency, whatever equipment and staffing is required will just show up.  I doubt residents are aware that the fire emergency response will be one fire truck and three firefighters.  Should the fire emergency be more serious and additional assistance is required, the additional help is 20+ minutes away and will come from another town or city.  Even worse, should the ambulance be out on a call, the fire emergency response will be one fire truck and one firefighter.  Unfortunately, simultaneous calls for service happen frequently.  Also, when the fire truck goes out on a mutual aid call, there is normally no fire/ambulance protection in Town unless two off-duty firefighters get called back on overtime, and a third-party ambulance responds from out of town for a medical aid call.

Yesterday, I watched the YouTube video of the February 9, Select Board/Town Administrator/Finance Committee meeting regarding public safety staffing.  The meeting was disturbing.  I had to stop watching it after two hours and 32 minutes because I couldn’t take the nonsense any longer.  It was blatantly obvious to me that no one sitting at the U-shaped table or on the phone had any understanding of fire emergency operations and absolutely no comprehension of staffing requirements and necessary overtime that is required for the safe and efficient operation of the MFD, and safety of all residents.

I understand the roles of all town officials and appreciate the time and effort they invest each year on annual fiscal budgets and the Town’s finances.  However, all Town officials must be able to listen to the Fire Chief and past Chiefs and focus on ways to reduce the risk level to MFD staff and all town residents.  It seems that Town officials do not understand the story behind the numbers.  Town officials continue to “kick the can down the road” year after year and that is totally unacceptable and dangerous.

A few comments made by Town officials during the February 9 meeting surprised me:

  • Town Administrator (Greg) at one point suggested he would consider adding two firefighters but would be against adding four because he felt that would be too expensive for a little town.  However, this little town has a FY2023 Real and Personal Property Value of $2,969,576,887 and an Exempt Parcels Value of $221,431,800.  That is a significant property value to protect with an under-staffed and under-resourced MFD.  A house fire doesn’t care if it is burning down in a little town or a large city.  For comparison-sake, if a Gloucester resident had smoke in their basement and a fire alarm sounding, Gloucester Fire would immediately dispatch 2-3 pumper trucks, one ladder truck, one rescue squad and a command vehicle.  Initial response would include 11-14 GFD firefighters depending on staffing at that time.  Yet Manchester town officials continue to maintain that MBTS is safe with one fire truck and three firefighters for the initial fire emergency response.  Personally, I believe five Fire firefighters per shift at MFD would lower the risk level, but four firefighters per shift is certainly better and safer than just three firefighters.
  • Overtime – A Select Board member was pressing Chief Cleary on not going over the overtime budget from July 2023 to December 2023.  The Chief stated it would be very difficult without having to drop down to two or one firefighter per shift at times.  The Select Board member said, “That is what is expected, Chief.”  That is totally absurd and will force a very unsafe and dangerous situation for the firefighters and all residents.  Where is the common sense?
  • I was hopeful that changing dispatch operations and saving all that money would result in hiring several firefighters.  I am really discouraged to hear that some of the money will go to two “Lobby Patrolmen” at the Police station and not for additional full-time firefighters.
  • Call firefighter recruitment is now back on the table.  Good luck with that again.  Both Chief Rogers and Chief Kramlinger tried recruiting with little success.  Chief Rogers hired several people from Gloucester to increase the headcount on the Call list, but they never responded to fire calls or attended meetings or training.  The 2015 MRI Consulting report stated a town the size of Manchester should have an on-call force of 26 call firefighters to supplement the three firefighters on duty.  What will the requirements and metrics be for new call firefighters?  Will they have to live in Manchester?  How many of the Police officers that are willing to become call firefighters will live in Manchester?  I believe it is critical for call firefighters to live in town for fast response times and to be effective.  Otherwise, just call for mutual aid.  Who will pay for their fire academy training?  What will the expected requirements be for number of responses attended and response time?

I was a Manchester call firefighter/EMT from 1976 to 1997.  My tenure with MFD gave me a solid understanding and knowledge of fire operations and the importance of available, reliable emergency resources in a timely fashion that are required to ensure effective, safe emergency scene operations and adequate station coverage during a call.  I enjoyed being a call firefighter but after 20+ years I had to resign because of increasing family and work responsibilities.  Manchester has changed drastically since I was a call firefighter.  At that time all full-time firefighters lived in Manchester. Now, only two full-time firefighters live in Manchester.  Also at that time, all 20-26 call firefighters lived in Manchester.  In 2018 only 2 of the ~8 call firefighters lived in Town.  The role of a Call firefighter is like a three-legged stool: it requires a conscious commitment from the call firefighter, commitment from their employer, and commitment from their family.

The 2024 Proposed Budget (dated 12/15/22) is $40,489,820.  The proposed 2024 Fire Department budget is $1,620,825 or 4.0 percent of the total budget.  If the Fire budget must increase to add firefighters, then town officials need to find a way to make it happen.  Like most fire departments, salaries make up about 90 percent of the fire budget. It is hard for me to understand why town officials cannot find money from the other $38,868,995 non-fire expenditure items in the 2024 budget to add four firefighters, without an override.

The proposed 2024 General Government budget is $5,214,828 or 12.87 percent of the total budget.  The 2018 proposed General Government budget was $4,341,043. Does General Government really need to be that expensive for a little town?  The 2024 General Government budget is up $230,898 (+4.63%) YOY.  That could have been enough money for additional firefighters.

The school budget is sacred, I get that.  I support the schools.  I graduated from Manchester schools, my children graduated from Manchester schools and my two grandchildren are attending Manchester schools.  This is an area I would expect Town officials to push back on a little bit harder each year instead of preparing us for the next override.

I look forward to your response to my concerns and would be glad to discuss the points listed above with you at your convenience.


Bob McDiarmid


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