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Council updated on fire district study

March 10, 2012

CUMBERLAND — The firm hired by the town last year to consult on a fire department merger study revealed some of its findings to the Town Council Wednesday as well as a glimpse of what it plans to eventually recommend when it submits its final report to the council in the fall.
Donald I. Jacobs, of Holden-based D.I. Jacobs Management Consulting Services, gave the council a 30-minute update on the progress of a comprehensive feasibility planning assessment for the purpose of consolidating the town's fire services as either an independent, municipal or regional department.
The study is a three-phase process. The first phase was exploratory with Jacobs and his team - including Andover, Mass. Fire Chief Michael Mansfield - meeting and talking with all of the town's various fire chiefs, fire district trustees and district employees.
"From the beginning, everyone has been extremely cooperative and forthright and more than willing to share their opinions and concerns on how best to provide fire services in the community," Jacobs told the council.
The second step is for Jacobs to come back to the town with a findings report in the fall. The third step will be to develop a course of action with specific recommendations, followed by a series of public hearings. The Town Council would then adopt an implementation plan and schedule, and begin initial operations of a consolidated fire service by Jan. 1, 2013.
Right now, the town is broken down into four areas that have independent fire districts. Each district bills residents and businesses for fire protection. The four districts are Cumberland Fire District, Valley Falls Fire District, North Cumberland Fire District and Cumberland Hill Fire District.
The town is also served by the Cumberland Rescue Service, which provides 911 emergency coverage for the town. The Cumberland Rescue Service currently runs two full-time paramedic level rescues and has 18 full-time employees that work on a rotating schedule.
Hiring Jacobs for the job last year came nine months after a voter mandate to consolidate the town's independent fire districts. Eighty percent of the voters going to the polls in November of 2010 approved the binding referendum.
Jacobs noted some initial findings in the study on Wednesday. One of those is that, based on the current fire station configuration, staffing levels and apparatus and equipment are adequate. Another finding, however, shows that the command structure as it stands today is top heavy.
"What we're recommending is that the new fire department entity be organized in the fashion of what we like to call 'functional lines of service,' in which the organizational structure is broken down to administration/personnel management; fire prevention/inspections; emergency rescue; and operation of the call force," Jacobs said. "These are what we would describe as the basic components that would make up the organizational structure of the new fire department."
"The staffing structure should reflect these functional areas," Jacobs added. "The type of organizational structure we're going to be recommending you is a more flatter type of structure where's there's more emphasis placed on providing command supervisory services at the lowest level of the organization, while at the higher management level, we would be defining responsibilities broken down into the functional categories listed previously."
"So, when it's all said and done, the organizational structure will reflect and clearly define the roles and responsibilities of both management as well as staff as it relates specifically to the provision of those respected functional areas of service," he said.
As for the fire station facilities, the assessment study found that all of the facilities have significant deficiencies and are unable to accommodate a career staffing structure.
"They need to be improved and in this new configuration there needs to be a short-term and long-term capital plan that addressed those needs," Jacobs said.
As for the administration and financial aspects, the study points out the inconsistencies of having four separate fire districts with the ability to set taxes and bill the residents and businesses for fire protection.
"Right now, there are four different ways the districts are being administered," Jacobs said. "With a single entity, it will allow you to develop consistencies and efficiencies, as well as a single way of measuring costs and generating revenue."


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