Public Safety Committee to review CPSM’s study of Haverhill, MA fire department

HAVERHILL — A report from the Center for Public Safety Management on the short- and long-term needs of the city’s fire department outlines 23 recommendations, including spending $2.5 million annually for new employees, purchasing and staffing a new $1.6 million ladder truck and building a new $20 million fire station.

The report includes suggestions for increasing protection of the community, enhancing the safety of firefighter personnel and improving emergency response times.

When the city council met Tuesday night, Joe Pozzo from the Center for Public Safety Management presented a slide-show overview of his organization’s 159-page Haverhill Fire/EMS data analysis study, which Mayor James Fiorentini had commissioned at a cost of $50,000.

Pozzo, who spoke remotely, told the council that his group has conducted more than 400 of these types of in-depth studies for communities in 46 states and Canada.

“You have a very, very good fire department with some very dedicated personnel,” Pozzo added. “I visited with them, I went to each one of your fire stations … I went to your call stations and I saw them in person, I saw them working.”

The report indicated the city’s fire maintenance budget is adequate and should be maintained or enhanced, the city should continue with its fleet replacement plan, strengthen all current mutual aid agreements and consider designating a finance liaison to work with the HFD grants committee.

Following Pozzo’s presentation, Fire Chief Robert O’Brien said the report contains recommendations his department has long been asking for, particularly adding personnel, which he said is his top priority, followed by a new fire station and the need for an assistant fire chief.

“Those options are left to us, the community, and have to be discussed here,” he said.

Councilor Shaun Toohey asked O’Brien if he was happy with the report and if considered it to be biased, indicating the firefighter union had expressed concerns that it might be.

“I’m happy that Chief Pozzo and his associates dealt with us honestly and truly listened to all the information we could provide,” O’Brien said, adding that Pozzo and his group did not come to the city to make him happy.

The council voted unanimously to send the report to the public safety committee for study and to send a letter to the city’s legislative delegation to look into the possibility of acquiring land off Route 97 for a new station.

Near-term (1 to 3 years) recommendations

Consider assigning one additional firefighter per shift to the High Street
Station engine company (four total). Estimated annual cost of $450,372.

For the city to consider hiring an assistant fire chief (it now has five deputy fire chiefs) at an estimated annual cost of a new external hire of $144,657, or promoting from within at an estimated annual cost of $172,580, which would include the cost of resulting internal promotions.

“I’m in discussions with the mayor as far as an assistant chief … it’s long overdue,” O’Brien said.

Develop a plan to refurbish fire trucks when they reach 15 years in service and replacing them at the 25-year mark, and for the city to continue its plan to purchase a fire boat for the Water Street station, with no additional staffing needed.

Midterm (3 to 5 years) recommendations

That the city consider assigning one additional firefighter position (four total) to the Water Street engine company at an annual cost of $450,372.

The report recommends that if the city goes to a civilian dispatch, firefighters should be taken out of dispatch and put back at fire stations.

“This is the plan we have had for some time,” Fiorentini said. “I was happy to see the study confirm that we are headed in the right direction.”

Long-term (5 to 8 years) recommendations

Hiring 12 additional firefighters for the Bradford station at an estimated annual cost of $1.3 million and purchasing a $1.6 million ladder truck. These and other recommendations are intended to improve response times.

O’Brien emphasized the need for an additional ladder truck and said his department is working on a three-year staffing grant for manning one.

“The safety of my men lies with additional staffing and another ladder,” O’Brien said.

Broadway fire station recommendation

The report also recommends the city consider building a new station on Route 97 (Broadway at I-495) at a cost of $15 million to $20 million, assuming the city can obtain the needed land.

O’Brien said a new station would address many concerns outlined in the report and would also be the best place to house the rescue truck.

“We also need that station to address Ayers Village and to address limitations in fixing our vehicles,” O’Brien said.

Click here to read the full CPSM Fire Department Analysis Report for Haverhill, MA.

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