Union chief renews call for bulking up Amherst Fire Department staffing

  • Max Chin, 4, of Amherst, tries out a firetruck during an open house at the Amherst Fire Department Dec. 1, 2017 as part of the Merry Maple Festival and Tree Lighting at the Amherst Town Common.

Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 07, 2019

AMHERST — The union representing Amherst’s career firefighters, who handle both fire and medical calls, is renewing a plea for more robust staffing levels, pointing to a continued increase in the use of off-duty firefighters for emergencies and firefighters responding solo to structure fires and car crashes.

In a letter posted on the Amherst Fire Fighters Local 1764 Facebook page addressed to Amherst residents, Matthew Sposito, president of the union, writes that the town’s staffing philosophy remains unsustainable.

“The fire department resources are being stretched far too thin on a regular basis, despite no longer having a contract to service the town of Hadley,” Sposito wrote.

The letter comes in response to a report from Hadley on its first year of having its own ambulance service, Action EMS, instead of depending on Amherst to provide medical service. Between July 1, 2018, and June 30, 2019, Action EMS transported 894 patients. The bulk of those transports previously would have been handled by Amherst, which lost an estimated $600,000 in ambulance receipts between patient insurance and the annual contract.

Sposito’s letter notes that a Carlson Group study in 2017 recommended at that least two firefighter/paramedics be added to staff an additional ambulance during periods when calls peak. That report also observed that the department’s workload would grow within the next two to four years even if Hadley pursued its own ambulance service.

The union has been disappointed that there remains 46 full-time staff, covering Amherst and continued medical services for Pelham, Leverett and Shutesbury, as well as the University of Massachusetts, Amherst College and Hampshire College campuses.

“Our call for a change in the staffing philosophy of the town of Amherst have continued to fall on deaf ears,” Sposito writes. “Staffing levels have gone unchanged decade after decade, endangering residents, visitors, students and firefighters.”

Town Manager Paul Bockelman said Wednesday he had not seen the letter.

In the fiscal year 2020 town budget, though, an update on the fiscal year 2019 goal “to review and implement the recommendations from the recently completed fire staffing study” is described as an ongoing task.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.