Fire Chief says department understaffed and “playing with fire” HFD has had 12 resignations in 13 years
By Theresa Knapp
Hopedale Fire Chief Thomas Daige is frustrated with yet another resignation from the fire department and says the town is “playing with fire” with an understaffed department. Daige was before the Select Board on Nov. 22 to present the resignation of the latest full-time firefighter to leave the department which led to a discussion about staffing.
“This is the 12th full-time member that I have hired and watched go out the door to go to a more-staffed fire department as well as better pay in 13 years,” Daige said. “This is a recurring theme, like you’ve dealt with with the police department - same thing with us. We’re investing in these employees for three to four years and they’re walking out the door and leaving it all behind.”
In the employee’s letter of resignation, the firefighter said he was leaving Hopedale after eight years to join the Hopkinton Fire Department where he will be “working with more [personnel] per group and better benefits along with higher competitive wages.”
Select Board Chairman Brian Keyes said he issue needs to be addressed “or we’re just going to have a revolving door of some sort and we just can’t afford to do that as a community regardless of our size.”
Daige said Hopedale needs to adopt an officer candidacy program and start developing staff early in their career, and the town has to “make it lucrative to get these guys to stay around.”
Daige said ideal staffing would include hiring eight more firefighters to staff four per shift, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“We can do a lot more on a fire engine with four than we can with two,” he said citing an example of a house fire on Nov. 21 at 9:30 p.m.
“It took the first engine 11 minutes to get there so, I mean, you’re playing with fire, no pun intended, and we have been,” Daige told the Select Board. “I had to explain to the residents, ‘Sorry it took so long but the two firefighters you have on duty are out on a medical call and everybody has to come from home.’”
Keyes said the town has a “critical need” to increase fire staffing.
“If we’re not going to make the investment, regardless of a grant option or not, we’re either going to lose [employees] that we bring in and train, and we’re going to be less safe. Period. It’s that simple,” Keyes said. “And if residents feel like they don’t want to make the investment of their tax dollars and choose to be less safe - I mean 11 minutes to get to a fire call in a basement, are you kidding me?”
Selectman Louis Arcudi III requested the issue be on a future agenda so it can be discussed in detail with Daige.
“I know that, with the police department, we did a revamp of some of the ways we were doing steps and paying people and…it seems that has actually added some value,” Arcudi said. “I’m hoping we can share some of these statistics with the residents as we go into the budget cycle. It may be something that we may be taking a very deeper dive and potentially a very significant increase in next year’s budget, by increasing some of those salaries or changing the payment metrics in order to not be paying for all of these people to come in and train and then leave after two or three years to go to another town.”