BERLIN – The effect of budget cuts and the need for a new EMS funding system highlighted a Berlin Fire Company discussion with town officials this week.
On Monday, Berlin Fire Company (BFC) President David Fitzgerald provided the Berlin Town Council with a quarterly report on fire company operations. He acknowledged fewer accidents to respond to as COVID-19 prompted people to stay home but said the fire company was also down a staff member. Fitzgerald said the EMS position had been eliminated as a result of budget cuts.
“There is no longer four people at the fire house,” he said. “There’s not a second crew. It’s only three people at the station so any second call now you have to wait for volunteers or you may be waiting for another response from an agency.”
He said the impact of being down a responder would be even more noticeable when someone else was on sick or vacation leave.
“You’ll not have the staffing the town and the county has had for many years,” he said.
Mayor Gee Williams pointed out before the pandemic there had been plans underway to form a county task force to study EMS funding throughout Worcester. Williams said he’d invited the BFC to be a part of that once it got underway.
“This emergency services dilemma is not exclusively a Berlin situation,” Williams said. “It is something that every town’s handling differently.”
He said it was time for the towns and the county to work together to find a solution to increasing EMS costs.
“We feel that a coordinated effort between the county and the towns is an absolute must or things are only going to get tougher and tougher and tougher,” he said. “Now I think we’ve reached a point we all want to work together. Everybody doing their own thing is just not financially sustainable.”
Fitzgerald said something he wanted to bring to the town’s attention was the fact that the county always sought fire company input when new developments were proposed while the Town of Berlin did not. He said the town considered a development’s impact on water and sewer infrastructure but did not take into account its potential strain on fire and EMS services.
“You take an empty field and build 702 apartments, we can probably tell you about how many EMS calls that’s going to generate, how many fire calls,” Fitzgerald said. “Yes, the place may be sprinklered, comments were made ‘oh it’s not going to burn down.’ But we go to some of these places for many elevator rescues and other things.”
He said he thought that if the town consulted the BFC regarding development both parties could have a better understanding of resources needed.
Williams said he agreed.
“Rather than do this piecemeal we need to take this multifaceted challenge and pull it all together…,” he said. “It’s a lot of moving parts. The fact that we have these individual volunteer fire companies trying to provide EMS services on all different scales and all kinds of levels of needs and quite frankly it’s a system that has outlasted its time. We’re moving forward in so many other ways. I know that we all expect there might be a temporary slowdown in growth but I don’t think it’s a permanent one. If anything I’m very grateful for the continued growth that’s happening in this town and our immediate area.”
Councilman Zack Tyndall asked Fitzgerald how fire and EMS responders were dealing with COVID-19.
“They’re holding up well,” he said. “It’s challenge. You’re used to being together and you’re not together. I do feel that does not bring camaraderie. We’ve been very fortunate that we’ve had no one in our employment or our volunteers ill due to COVID-19.”