Selectmen voted 3-2 Tuesday evening to allow Bourne Fire Chief Martin Greene to accept a $1.1 million federal grant that will allow him to hire eight new firefighters.
That funding will cover new equipment and benefits for all eight firefighters, as well as salaries, and will run for two years, from December 31, 2012, to December 31, 2014, Town Administrator Thomas M. Guerino said.
With the overtime saved by the addition of those personnel, Chief Greene told selectmen Tuesday, he would also be able to promote eight other firefighters to supervisor, ensuring that there is a fire lieutenant to act as “foreman” on every shift.
Selectmen John A. Ford Jr. and Earl V. Baldwin, both former police chiefs, cast the two opposing votes.
Fire Chief Greene had first applied for the Federal Emergency Management Agency grant, called a SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response) grant, at the beginning of the year. In March, selectmen voted not to support acceptance of that grant if it were to be offered. They reasoned that if the grant is not renewed at the end of two years, the new firefighters might have to be laid off and the fire lieutenants demoted. Either that, or the town would have to pick up the cost of those personnel within the budget.
Both Selectmen Ford and Baldwin said they still felt the same.
This week, however, after the town received a letter indicating that Bourne was under serious consideration for the grant, the remaining board members voted to allow the town to accept the funding. Yesterday morning, Chief Greene received an e-mail confirming that the town will be awarded the grant.
The selectmen’s vote was taken after Chief Greene said the grant would allow him to provide better coverage from the Sagamore and Pocasset stations, as well as to comply with some of the recommendations made in a staffing study conducted several years ago, not to mention industry standards.
Chief Greene said he did not expect to have any difficulty hiring qualified people to fill the eight positions. The grant does not cover the cost to the town of sending the new firefighters to a training academy, he said, but the department has two years in which to send the newly hired people to that academy. He expects that he will be able to provide in-house training to the new employees, at least until such time as he knows that he wants, and the department can afford, to retain them.
Selectman Ford, who complimented Chief Greene on having cut back on overtime, and for having the initiative to apply for the SAFER grant, said he still opposed accepting the funding. He said he does not think the economy will improve enough to allow the town to retain the new firefighters if the grant is not renewed.
Selectman Donald J. Pickard, who voted to support acceptance of the grant, noted that people would forget the grant funding source and, if that grant money were to dry up, losing those personnel, it would be perceived as the town laying off and demoting employees. An outcry could result, he said.
Chief Greene said he not only needed the proposed new firefighters, he needed the supervisors. To the suggestion that he just hire four firefighters, something that would allow him to save money on overtime, he said that saving money was not his first priority. He said giving Sagamore and Pocasset the service they deserve comes first.
As to the creation of the new fire lieutenants, he told selectmen, “Quite frankly, the firefighters need the supervision. I have too many Indians. I need the chiefs.”
Chief Greene said that he would be meeting with his department member “immediately” to discuss the implications of the grant, which Mr. Guerino said should cut overtime between 30 and 45 percent.
The chief said he thinks that, given that overtime calls never come at a good time—interrupting meals, family time and sleep—that might not be seen as a totally bad thing.
He said he was very grateful to the board for reconsidering the issue. He expects the grant to greatly improve the service his department provides.