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Franklin County fire chiefs eye regional service

Franklin County fire chiefs have raised the possibility of creating a regional fire service, asking area towns to help secure state money for a study.

A letter from the Franklin County Fire Chiefs Association notes the challenge of having each town field its own fire department. It requests support for a study

Turners Falls Fire Chief Robert Escott Jr. said roughly 26 association members representing 21 towns were present at a meeting Jan. 22 that endorsed the move — and he heard no dissenting votes. Most of the county’s fire departments are volunteer-run. Escott said he believes the topic had been at the back of everyone’s mind for some time, but he only recently found out money for a study might be available.

COG Director of Community Services Phoebe Walker said she has so far received two letters supporting the concept, from Leverett and Sunderland. “My guess is we’ll do something about it,” Walker said.

Walker said she has so far also heard from Deerfield, Colrain, Hawley, Northfield, Bernardston, Buckland and Conway, who have not included fire regionalization in their requests.

Walker said she is hoping for a more concrete idea of what the fire chiefs are looking for. Escott described the main issue in Turners is a shortage of personnel. He said he believes other departments are in the same situation.

“The ability to give up time to something like this isn’t there for a lot of people,” Escott said.

The town of Shutesbury’s website prominently displays a request for help from Fire Chief Walter R. Tibbetts, asking for applicants to swell the numbers of a shrinking department.

The statement faults changing demographics, work, family and other responsibilities for a drastic reduction in the number of people applying.

“At the same time, state and federal mandates, training requirements, increase in incident volume, as well as the previously mentioned reasons, are putting more pressure on those that are here presently doing the job. The big problem is that there are not enough of us,” reads the plea.

If the COG decides to fund the study, Escott said the towns would not be obliged to follow any resulting recommendations.

Winn and Escott said it is too early to say what regionalization might look like, whether countywide or in smaller town clusters.

Escott said a study might recommend a reduction in the number of stations or fire engines, but jobs would not likely be on the block.

“The manpower is the issue, so I don’t see a study saying ‘You have too many firefighters,’” Escott said.

With the study as yet hypothetical, Winn said it is also possible the recommendation would be for more stations to better accommodate the topography and population distribution of the county.

Fire prevention could also be addressed.

Winn said new fire laws and codes are developed each year, with the responsibility for enforcement falling to the local departments, and handling code enforcement at the county level might be a solution.

Funding requests were due Friday but Walker said she will continue to accept letters into next week.

Escott and Winn said the association letters were sent out to all county fire chiefs, to be sent on to their various selectboards, fire district prudential committees or other governing bodies.

The request is on the agenda for the Montague Board of Selectmen’s meeting Monday.

Legacy Comments1

Good for some forward thinking! After my years as a volunteer I saw the decline in firefighters responses. Highland Ambulance was created because volunteers could no longer respond in a timely manner. 3 or more tones for resonse is not acceptable.

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