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CALL FIREFIGHTERS: Crucial to Town; Taxpayers Can't Afford Full-time Department [with video]

Selectman Chairman Peter Cunningham told the members of the Groton Fire Department Monday night that the town "cannot afford a fulltime fire department" and emphasized the importance of the safety and protection provided to the town by the Fire Department's "call department" members who are often toned out in the middle of the night to serve the community and its residents, whether for a fire or medical emergencies. He stressed that the call department members are absolutely critical and very important to Groton's public safety.

The whole issue of public safety was raised by Selectman Jack Petropoulos at the Selectmen's meeting two weeks earlier when he accused Town Manager Mark Haddad of jeopardizing public safety because Haddad, following a directive from the Finance Committee, cautioned both the Fire Chief and Police Chief to look carefully at reducing their department's overtime budgets.

There are five fulltime unionized firefighter/ EMT's three of whom are on duty along with one call department member Mondays through Friday's from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. When one of the full time firefighters is not available, their slot is filled by another union firefighter at time and a half pay rate, per the union contract. The slot cannot be filled by any of the call members.

Based on Petropoulos allegations, the Selectmen immediately put together a small committee to look at the Fire Department overtime and staffing issues. Selectman Josh Degen said that to date there were three meetings to address this issue. He advised that the Fire and Police Departments were verbally advised by Town Manager Mark Haddad in September and again in November to monitor the overtime expenses. Degen said that the committee looked back at the Fire Department fiscal year, checking the time off and infill for fulltime fighters at time and a half shifts. He cited the overtime expenses for the Audubon brush fire and the Blood Farm fire. There are five fulltime unionized firefighters who qualify for the time and half pay. Based on overtime expenses, the town could have up to a $60K shortfall, Degen said.

Haddad stressed that as "The CFO, it is my fiduciary responsibility to stay within the budget and to take corrective action with those departments." He pointed out that he also "froze the Police Department's overtime for two months in order to meet the budgetary guidelines. I continue to do my job as town manager to control costs."

"In the end," Degen said of the committee, "the decision was a consensus to sit down with the Fire Chief and Police Chief and see, in the interests of public safety, if we need additional staff."

Degen stressed that contrary to Petropoulos previous allegation, "the public was not put in harm's way by Town Manager Haddad."

Cunningham addressed the manner in which Selectman Jack Petropoulos brought forward his issues regarding Haddad's directive on Fire Department overtime in which Cunningham said Petropoulos "cited a dire threat to the public that does not do a service to the townspeople. It does not do the town well when this is done in this manner." He added that the Town Manager will meet with the two Chiefs to ensure that staffing issues are raised. Degen added that he felt the Board should be made aware when there are shift issues.

Groton Herald

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P.O. Box 610, Groton, Massachusetts 01450

145 Main Street, Groton, Massachusetts 014510
[Prescott Community Center]

Telephone: 978-448-6061

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