Liz Welsh and Amy Brodigan: Worried about staffing levels at the AFD

Monday, November 11, 2019

As mothers of a firefighter (out of state), we are writing about the firefighters/paramedics of the Amherst Fire Department. We are very concerned to hear about the understaffing of the department.

Sufficient staffing is needed to both protect us and for firefighters to be protected from the inherent dangers of the job. The recent spate of fires only increases our worry.

Our firefighters are vital to our town; they touch every corner of our community. As a home care and hospice nurse (Liz), when I call 911 on behalf of a patient in Amherst, I know that s/he will be treated with kindness, compassion and skill. But, I don’t want to learn that understaffing has resulted in the firefighters responding to my patient’s call in the 32nd hour of what has become a 38-hour shift. We want them to be able to show up to emergencies with plenty of energy, in good time and with the necessary hands on deck.

They should not have to wait for second truck in order to get to work immediately on a fire. Low staffing also means less training. If the department is understaffed, it’s very difficult to send staff to anything beyond the minimum required trainings. This puts Amherst firefighters and Amherst residents at risk.

The situations firefighters face are more complicated and varied; training is essential. We need firefighters to know the latest techniques and have time to have those practices engrained. And while it may seem less important, we also want to know that firefighters can take a vacation or call out when they are sick without worrying burdening their colleagues. That’s critical for staff morale.

From our son’s experience, we know that firefighting is a passion; it is a calling. But, it is inherently stressful. If we want firefighters to take care of us, we need to protect and take care of them. They need to be supported by the very people they serve. We need to adequately fund and staff our fire department. We understand that the loss of Hadley’s EMS service has diminished funding, yet we also understand that Amherst’s call volume continues to grow and the department has not been adequately staffed for decades.

Given the call volume, demographics and population, Amherst should have at least 15 firefighters on duty. We owe that to our firefighters. We have a lot to fund; this one is crucial. We’ve ignored it long enough, which risks the safety of Amherst residents and our firefighters.

Liz Welsh and Amy Brodigan