October 10, 2013 at 9:59 AM
Our campaign for Mayor and Council essentially comes down to this: We have had too many terms of the same town government and need some change.
For example, Westfield’s fire department has been cut to the quick. We are asking for trouble. A situation can develop where our fire department will not adequately respond to a fire and we risk loss of life and property. We have cut our fire department personnel by about 25%. We have gone from an adequate nine-man platoon (five on the North side and four on the South side) with a minimum manning of seven (four and three, when there are vacations or injuries) to seven-man platoons and a minimum manning of six (three and three). This means if we are called out on mutual aid, Westfield becomes defenseless. It has affected fire safety in town and will result in higher fire insurance premiums for every homeowner the next time the town is evaluated. These higher premiums will simply be another tax that is hidden in the cost of our insurance.
This is not hypothetical; it is real. The effect of the cuts was demonstrated by the Hamilton House and Ferraros fires where we didn’t have enough firefighters to bring our ladder truck. In several recent home fires only three firemen showed up initially and couldn’t enter the house (including one home on Barchester that burned to the ground because of the delay in firemen being able to enter the house).
The National Fire Prevention Association standard calls for four firefighters per apparatus (truck). At our current full complement of seven firefighters split between two firehouses we can never meet that standard. The OSHA rules require that to send anyone inside to fight a fire we have two firefighters available to go in and two standing by ready to help them. When we show up at a fire with three firemen they are limited to what they can do from outside the home until more show up. With platoons of seven, in the best of circumstances, one of the trucks has only three firemen and must wait for the second truck to arrive before entering the home.
Seconds matter in a fire. In the case of the Barchester fire, our mutual aid agreement and our low staffing level caused a house to burn to the ground. Although additional firemen were called in, they were unable to get to the fire quickly enough to save the structure.
We should look to increase the level in increments to achieve a level of safety that we believe is appropriate for our town and the taxes we pay. As your mayor and councilman, we will make returning to eight-man platoons a near-term goal toward finding the right level of fire department staffing.
We have also fallen short in encouraging volunteers who are an important component to our fire department. It has dwindled to almost nothing in terms of responding to fires. In walking door-to-door, Dave met a Westfield resident who volunteers as a fireman in a neighboring town. He did not know that Westfield had a volunteer component of its force and said that he would have volunteered here, if he had known. The volunteer component has to be rebuilt. Westfield is large enough to have a professional fire department, but we need to take advantage of the volunteerism that helps make Westfield a great place to live.
We have committed ourselves to a paid fire department with a volunteer component. We should make sure that we are getting what we are paying for and that we are making efforts to bolster the volunteer aspect. We have neither that assurance nor that effort from the present town government. It is time for a change.
David Haas, Democratic Candidate for Mayor
John J. Walsh, Democratic Candidate for Town Council, 4th Ward