North Shore Town Could Train Police Officers as Volunteer Firefighters

The once-robust group of volunteer firefighters that were there in the past no longer exists, according to the town administrator

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A community on the North Shore is discussing an idea that would have police officers be trained to become volunteer firefighters.

The goal of the proposal is to help with recent staffing shortages in Manchester-by-the-Sea, but the firefighters union doesn't think it's a good idea.

"The police department is understaffed," union president Bob Cavender said. "They're currently trying to hire more people. I don't see how taking on additional roles and responsibilities related to fire outside of their daily scope is a viable option."

A staffing shortage is impacting paramedics and EMTs on the North Shore, and a firefighters' union says the issue is putting lives at risk.

The once-robust group of volunteer firefighters that were there in the past no longer exists, according to the town administrator of Manchester-by-the-Sea. Firefighters said the town hasn't had one in about two years.

"People's live are busier, more hectic and the requirements to become a call firefighter have been ratcheted up," Town Administrator Gregory Federspiel said. "It's harder to get citizens to do that."

The idea, Federspiel said, would be to have the volunteers help out at larger scenes where more resources are needed, not to replace career firefighters.  

"If there's an extra officer on duty and that officer volunteered to be trained, then they could switch gears or switch hats so to speak," Federspiel explained.

The department has already overspent their overtime funds by $100,000, Federspiel said.

According to Cavender, the fire chief has been doing everything possible to keep the department at a three-person staff, backfilling vacancies when there is vacation or sick time which involves spending overtime dollars.

Fewer people are applying for jobs in law enforcement amid outcry for police reform.

"The Chief and firefighters will tell you that they prefer a career person, sure that is preferred if money is no object, but we live in budgetary constraints," Federspiel said.

The volunteer model didn't work in the past, firefighters said, who also don't think this time will be any different.

"Historically, our call firefighter model failed," Cavender said. "We had people coming back to less than 2% of our calls. As firefighters, it's sad but true. The data is there, that the call firefighter model doesn't work in this town."

During an annual meeting in April, voters will decide whether to approve a supplemental budget to pay for the overtime needed to keep three people on each shift.

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