Photo: Art Keene

Dear Amherst Community,

During the recent fire at Hampshire Fitness Club in my neighborhood, I did something that I thought I never would – become glued to a fire and police scanner.  I am the proud mother of an Amherst Firefighter/Paramedic and am in constant awe of what this department does for us. To keep myself from being too overwhelmed with the reality that my son is often in harm’s way, I have avoided scanners.

Nonetheless, with one quick download to my cell phone, I was listening to conversations between our dispatcher and Assistant Fire Chief Lindsay Stromgren, who were calmly managing multiple emergencies happening simultaneously in our town.

What I heard, and the frightening words kept repeating in my mind, was that one of our own firefighter/paramedics, not named, was being rushed to the hospital with an injury sustained from this fire, and that our community had an unresponsive person but no ambulance available to respond. Stromgren directed an ambulance from Granby to attend to the unresponsive person, and directed dispatch to call in mutual aid from area Fire Departments.

Amherst’s Fire Department has too few firefighter/paramedics and other resources to meet the demands on it.  That night Amherst had to rely on Granby, a 20-minute drive away, to provide emergency lifesaving measures to an unresponsive person. This left Granby itself with no ambulance and vulnerable in case of an emergency there.  Meanwhile, Belchertown, Easthampton, the South County ambulance service (Deerfield and surrounding towns), and South Hadley were handling Amherst’s other emergencies. (A thank you is also in order to the Hadley, Northampton, and Pelham Fire Departments for being here.)

The University of Massachusetts continues to increase its student population. Construction workers, who often work in dangerous situations, continue to build new structures on campus and in town. Our population is aging. All this means that Amherst’s understaffed and under-equipped Fire Department will become even more overtaxed.

Our Town Councilors and Town Manager seem to be balancing the Amherst Fire Department’s budget on the backs of our dedicated Fire Department personnel, area fire departments, and the mutual aid system. Amherst cannot go on like this. Will it take a death to wake up our civic officials?

Bonnie MacCracken

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