Bonnie MacCracken: Will it take a death to support AFD?

  • Dominic Singh of the Amherst Fire Department, center, works with other responders on the scene of a 2016 fire in Amherst. Gazette file photo

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

During a recent fire at the Hampshire Fitness Club in my neighborhood, I did something that I thought I never would — become glued to a fire and police scanner.

I am the proud mother of an Amherst firefighter/paramedic, and in constant awe of what this department does for us. To keep myself from being too overwhelmed with the realities that my son is often in harm’s way, I have avoided scanners.

Nonetheless, with one quick download to my cellphone, I was listening to conversations between our dispatcher and Assistant Fire Chief Lindsay Stromgren, calmly managing multiple emergencies happening simultaneously in our town.

What I heard, and the frightening words kept repeating in my mind, was that one of our own firefighter/paramedics, not named, was being rushed to the hospital with an injury sustained from this fire, and that our community had an unresponsive person but no ambulance available to respond. Stromgren directed an ambulance from Granby to attend to the unresponsive person, and directed dispatch to call in mutual aid from area fire departments.

Amherst’s Fire Department has too few firefighter/paramedics and other resources to meet the demands on it. That night Amherst had to rely on Granby, a 20-minute drive away, to provide emergency lifesaving measures to an unresponsive person. This left Granby itself with no ambulance and vulnerable.

Meanwhile, Belchertown, Easthampton, the South County ambulance service (Deerfield and surrounding towns), and South Hadley were handling Amherst’s other emergencies. A thank you also to the Hadley, Northampton and Pelham Fire Departments for being here.

The University of Massachusetts continues to increase its student population. Tradespeople, often put in dangerous situations, continue to build new structures on campus and in town. Our population is aging. All this means that Amherst’s understaffed and underequipped fire department will become even more overtaxed.

Our town councilors and town manager seem to be balancing Amherst’s Fire Department budget on the backs and dedication of our fire department personnel, area fire departments and the mutual aid system.

Amherst cannot go on like this. Will it take a death to wake our civic officials up?

Bonnie MacCracken