BERLIN – The struggle to find volunteers and the growing costs of equipment highlighted a Berlin Town Council tour of the Berlin Fire Company.
On Monday, Berlin Fire Company (BFC) leaders walked the town council’s three newest members, Jay Knerr, Shaneka Nichols and Jack Orris, and Mayor Zack Tyndall and Town Administrator Jeff Fleetwood through BFC headquarters on Main Street. Tyndall assured them the town would offer what support it could to the agency.
“Unfortunately, on the revenue side of things we don’t have a whole lot of additional money that we can pass along but we’re here to help,” he said. “We want to be a good partner.”
BFC President David Fitzgerald kicked off the tour by showing elected officials the administration building. The facility, which was once the Berlin branch of the Worcester County Library, has been renovated to include training and office space for the fire company. Fitzgerald said the renovation had saved the BFC $1.3 million, as it had eliminated the need for a costly addition to the headquarters building.
“We think we’ve made good use of it, repurposed the building,” he said.
Next door at BFC headquarters, Fitzgerald pointed out the facility’s new entryway, which no longer leaks, as well as its upgraded boiler and new roof. Fire Chief R.J. Rhode gave council members a lesson on firefighting gear, which costs $3,500 a set and has to be replaced every 10 years if not sooner. Fitzgerald added that because volunteers were so hard to come by, the company had to buy gear for volunteers even when they knew that volunteer might only be living in the region for a few years.
“You take what you can get,” Fitzgerald said.
Rhode said that as employers became less understanding of staff rushing out to respond to fire calls in the middle of the workday, it was harder to get volunteers. He added that the hundreds of hours of training also made it hard to find people with the necessary time to be volunteers.
“It’s a big commitment,” he said.
Rhode showed elected officials the BFC’s vehicles, which include a 75-foot ladder truck as well as a new engine, purchased for $800,000 in 2019, that can carry 2,000 gallons of water.
Officials were also given a look at the company’s new ambulance, which features a hydraulic stretcher and is capable of transporting two patients.
Fitzgerald said the BFC had been forced to cut ambulance staff to three because of funding constraints.
“We used to staff four people,” Fitzgerald said.
Because two respond to each call, any time there’s a second ambulance call in Berlin Fitzgerald said that patient might have to wait on a crew from another fire company.
“That has handicapped us pretty severely,” Fitzgerald said.
Town Administrator Jeff Fleetwood asked why BFC’s fundraising revenue was down when other fire companies were still having success with fundraisers. Fitzgerald explained that the BFC’s most lucrative fundraiser in years past was a casino night. With the addition of a real casino in Worcester County, however, he said that event was no longer viable. He added that most area residents just assumed their tax dollars were going to the fire company. While the company does get funding from the town and county, it also relies on donations and fundraisers to operate.
“We’re open to ideas,” he said.
Tyndall invited the company to set up at Berlin’s special events.
“You’re more than welcome to set up a medical tent any time we close down the road, you’re welcome to have a booth out there,” he said. “You could have cadets or medical personnel or members do blood pressure checks. Whatever you want to do we’re here to help.”
Tyndall thanked officials for the tour and the opportunity for newly elected officials to get an idea of what went on at the firehouse. He added he was hoping funding for a strategic plan would be included in the town’s budget and the BFC and Atlantic General Hospital would both be part of that process.