July 6, 2005

 Bourne Braces For Devastation

Bourne Fire Department personnel in 1972.
(Back to the Future again??)


   The Bourne Fire Department is bracing for the unimaginable devastation that will accompany a failure to pass a Prop 2-1/2 override this October.  The fire rescue department covers 41 square miles and protects a year round population of over 18,000 residents.  Bourne responded to approximately 3,444 emergency calls in 2004 (#7 busiest on Cape, up over 100 calls from 2003). 
   There are (4) fire stations with an on duty compliment of (9) personnel (8 minimum).  Present staffing is distributed between (3) staffed stations:
Station 1 - Buzzards Bay: (1) Deputy, (1) Lieutenant, (3) Firefighters
Station 2 - Monument Beach:  No On Duty Staffing, Call Personnel Only
Station 3 - Sagamore: (2) Firefighters
Station 4 - Pocasset: (2) Firefighters
    All personnel in Bourne, as in other Cape towns, are cross trained in firefighting and as emts and paramedics.  Some are trained in other specialties such as Haz Mat, technical rescue, water rescue / dive team, etc...  Each firefighter works a minimum of 42 hours a week consisting of two 24 hour shifts every 8 days.  There are (4) groups of firefighters needed to cover 24 hours a day every day.
    Bourne, because it is split by the Cape Cod Canal, is a difficult town to protect on a good day, with long response times to sections of town in Sagamore and the southern Pocasset and Cataumet areas of town. Traffic conditions around the Canal add to the long response times, particularly this time of year, when the population in town is at its peek.

   A budget shortfall in July 1991 led to the layoffs of 12 of the 36 fulltime firefighters
at that time.  This led to the closing of both Station 3 & 4 and the loss of an ambulance south of the canal in town.  In 1992 Bourne responded to 1753 emergencies (about half what they respond to today) Pocasset re-opened with an ambulance and engine and (2) personnel in 1994. Sagamore re-opened years later with an ambulance and engine and (2) personnel. The location of ambulances in the outer sections of town (Sta 3 & 4) has been of great benefit to the residents in those areas that waited upwards of 20 minutes for an ambulance to come across town before that.
   Bourne has just barely gotten back to the 36 personnel level they were at 15 years ago, now doing twice the number of runs.  The call department that once made up much of the difference in the previous hard times has shrunk to about a dozen members.
   If the override vote fails in October, an estimated 14 Firefighter/Paramedics would be lost.  This would reduce the on duty staffing to about 5 or 6 personnel operating from a single fire station in Buzzards Bay.  Bourne would close its only staffed station south of the Canal and would not staff the brand new Sagamore station being built by state and federal funding of the Route 3 Flyover project (Bourne can't even pay for its own fire stations).
    As we all know, calls come in bunches.  Two or three at a time usually.  Ambulance crews are out of town up to an hour or more and even today, those stations are empty with no fire or ems personnel in them until the crews gets back.  The impact on emergency responses to fires and ems calls in the town of Bourne, as well as the neighboring towns that give and receive mutual aid almost daily already, is hard to comprehend.  It is safe to say that if Bourne can not find a way to fund its fire and ems department, fire and ems protection in the town of Bourne will be theoretical on paper and less than minimal in real life.  If will effect the safety and wellbeing of the personnel and residents of the town considerably to loose 14 of the youngest members of the department, all of whom are paramedics.  The loss of these personnel, all of whom have been trained and equipped at considerable expense to the town, will have long term effects on the department.  
    Harwich just went through a similar loss of 6 personnel, including 5 paramedics.  Other towns are also facing potential problems.  These are extremely difficult times for some departments and while the towns must work within their means, it makes no sense to eliminate the "essential services" that save lives and protect the community.  Homeland Security is the current buzzword.  Where is Homeland Security without at least a few firefighters and paramedics in each fire station?  Unbelievable!  

Bourne is not alone. 

Harwich voters earlier in the spring voted down an override attempt.  Harwich Fire Department lost 6 fulltime personnel, including 2 dispatchers and 4 firefighter/paramedics.  This forced them to take 2 additional medics off the floor to do desk duty, effectively losing 6 paramedics. Harwich ran 3,721 emergency calls in 2004.  They ordinarily staff (2) fire stations in the 21 square mile town with a population of approx 12,000.  Staffing was (1) Capt, (3) Firefighters, (1) dispatcher at Headquarters and (1) Lieut and (2) Firefighters at East Harwich Station 2.  (4) groups of (7) each.  With the layoffs, the department drops to (5) on two shifts and (6) on two others.  This puts Harwich in a real difficult position, possibly unable to staff both stations 24/7.  (Station 2 East Harwich was unstaffed and closed over night on July 5-6) Harwich is reducing its coverage as well, leading to probable delays in response times and increased firefighter safety concerns. Morale in Harwich is reportedly suffering from the situation.  Harwich has always been a very proud and effective fire department, willing to do a lot, with a little.  They are now paying a heavy price that may impact the department for a long time.  Harwich and neighboring departments have long operated well together through automatic responses and mutual aid, with Harwich being a key player (donor) to the neighboring departments.  That role may soon be reversed, yet neighboring towns are also understaffed.  With multiple, simultaneous calls common place year round, and now the increased work load with the summer population increases, it is going to be a real test for everyone to meet the demands being made over the summer.

From Middleborough, one of the largest towns in the state at 72 square miles, in Plymouth County, word comes that a budget shortfall there will lead to the loss of approximately 10 of 33 firefighters and a number of police officers and staff.  Middleborough has been running from three stations with a skeletal shift already of (5) at Central, (1) in the South Middleboro Station and (1) in North Middleboro. Middleborough responds to about 2,700 runs annually, but does not run the transport ambulance (AMR contract). Firefighters are concerned about safety in the community and for the firefighters, with long response times to get help.

Sandwich narrowly escaped layoffs this spring, but may face problems in the future/