Lives and property depend on Bedford firefighters’ shift capacity and response times when an emergency strikes.
To assess the Bedford Fire Department’s emergency capacity, Pomeroy Associates reviewed field operations, emergency response time, and department administration to determine an appropriate level of on-duty staff to meet current and future needs.
Fire Chief David Grunes presented statistics and the staffing study results to the Selectmen on January 21.
What Does History Reveal?
The statistics revealed that:
- Bedford’s emergency medical response has increased by 36% and overall emergency response has increased by 32% since 2014.
- In FY19, the Fire Department received mutual aid from an outside ambulance 229 times and provided mutual aid 90 times. Ten years earlier, in FY09, the Town received mutual aid ambulance support 124 times and provided mutual aid 117 times.
- Daytime employment in Bedford has increased from 18,805 in 2009 to 23,477 in 2018. The Town’s current estimated daytime population is 33,000 persons.
What is the Current Fire Department Staffing Model?
Fire Department personnel are cross-trained to serve on both ambulances and fire apparatus, and both an ambulance and fire/rescue truck respond to each call.
In four of 2019’s eleven (11) incidents of active fire in a structure, the ambulance was unavailable to respond due to a medical emergency at the same time.
In one incident, the ambulance crew was required to attend to a burn victim at the fire scene so they were unable to assist with fire control.
The Fire Department responded with a full complement to only six (6) of the eleven (11) fires.
Critical Tasks in Fighting a Fire
According to accepted practice, there are several critical tasks in fighting a fire:
- Establish an incident commander to assess the scene and allocate resources.
- Contain the fire – connect and stretch the fire hoses to douse the flames.
- Search the premises for individuals and rescue victims, optimally in teams of two.
- Ventilate the structure to allow hot gases and products of combustion to escape. Since ventilation also introduces oxygen that could feed the flames, it must be coordinated with water poured on the source of the flames.
What’s the Consultant’s Staffing Recommendation?
Pomeroy Associates’ recommendations include
- Hiring eight Firefighter/Paramedics for fire suppression and EMS activities, increasing the current schedule of seven [active staff] per shift to nine per shift.
- Start an internal promotional exam process to fill four captains positions no later than when the first four firefighter/paramedics are assigned to shift.
- Add a non-union Assistant Chief position.
- Add an additional 20 hour per week clerk position.
- Assess the need for a Department Fire Chaplain or mental-health professional trained to support first responders.
Would a Substation Solve the Staffing Problem?
The question of a substation was raised as a solution to staffing Bedford’s main firehouse. The answer, a resounding ‘No!’ came from two consultants, CDR Maguire and Pomeroy Associates, because the town would still be required to properly staff an ambulance, a fire engine, and a ladder truck at headquarters.
An adequate substation would cost approximately $6.5 million for building and operations. The estimate includes two pieces of apparatus and 12 firefighters.
The need for a substation was assessed independently by two outside consultants in 2015, and 2020.
- In 2015, a CDR Maguire study determined that a substation would only be feasible after the construction of a recommended headquarters facility comprising 20,000 square feet on a 60,000 square foot parcel of land.
- In 2020, Pomeroy Associates echoed the 2015 substation assessment and recommended that the Town monitor growth, and call volume in the northeast corner (Crosby Drive and Middlesex Turnpike) to determine future substation need.
In addition to the expense, new or recently renovated buildings in the Northeast Quadrant have an internal alarm and fire suppression capacity lacking in Bedford’s private homes.