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Easthampton council OKs $114,000 for public safety overtime

Both Fire Chief David A. Mottor and Dispatch Supervisor Lauren Mielke promised councilors that they were doing everything they could to stanch the flow of overtime funds.

Mottor requested $103,000 because injured and otherwise absent firefighters have resulted in the payout of almost all of the $170,000 line item meant to pay for shift coverage overtime for the entire fiscal year, which ends June 30.

“I hoped last year, when I was here for the first time, that it would be the last time,” Mottor told councilors. Last year he requested $30,000 to cover the department’s overtime shortfall, again due to injuries.

Two firefighters are still out after they were injured in the line of duty in 2011 and 2012, a third firefighter missed 17 shift for a medical issue, and a fourth firefighter missed 17 shifts when he was temporarily put on administrative leave for an undisclosed reason, Mottor said.

He said that his efforts to replace an injured firefighter and hire on-call backup firefighters have been delayed by state bureaucracy.

He is waiting for the state to rule on whether Daniel Regan, a full-time firefighter who injured his back in January 2011, will return to work or be replaced.

Mayor Michael A. Tautznik gave Mottor permission to find a replacement without waiting for the state’s finding, but Mottor said the state Civil Service Unit, which gives exams to municipal employees in order to create a merit system to determine who is hired or promoted, has not certified its most recent list of employees that the department could hire. Until the list is certified, he cannot select a replacement from it, he said.

Mottor said on-call firefighters can cover shifts for less than a full-time employee, but the department doesn’t have any. Once he receives the Civil Service Unit’s certified list of full-time candidates, he said he will request the list of potential on-call candidates and try to hire up to four.

He said that having on-call employees “would save a ton of overtime,” but it isn’t easy to keep a roster of on-call firefighters because they are often leaving for full-time positions. “Our goal is always to have four, but I don’t think we’ve ever had that since I’ve been on the department,” he said.

Dispatch shortages

Mielke told councilors that she has already taken steps to rectify the shortage of on-call dispatchers that led to a projected $11,000 deficit in the overtime budget.

For the last three or four months of 2012, there were no on-call dispatchers to fill in because they had not completed the required Emergency Medical Dispatch training on how to advise callers in emergency situations.

Now, Mielke said, there are two dispatchers who have completed the training and are eligible to work alone, two who can work alongside an EMD-trained dispatcher and two more are getting trained.

She also applied for two State 911 Department grants, one to cover the overtime costs and the other to pay for the EMD training. “I hope to hear back from the state in the next week or so,” she said.

City Council President Justin P. Cobb commended Mielke for “working hard to get ahead of the problem before it becomes a problem.”

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.

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