Letter: Understaffing Amherst Fire Department Endangers Community


Photo: Amherst Firefighters Local 1764

At 22:15 Monday July 1, a box alarm was struck alerting all Amherst FIre Department units to flames and fire showing in the area of 63 South Pleasant Street, Veracruzana. Ten minutes later a recall was sounded for a working structure fire at 63 South Pleasant Street. Your Amherst Firefighters were able to work quickly and effectively to extinguish the fire which had occurred on the back porch on the 4th floor of the building. The Amherst Fire Department was staffed to nine firefighters that night, five working out of central station and four working out of the north station. At the time that the box was struck, Ambulances 1, 2, and 3 were all either on scene at a medical call, transporting to the hospital, or at the hospital in Northampton. Each of these ambulances had two firefighters on board. Engine 2 was also on scene acting as an EFR (Emergency First Response) vehicle with two firefighters waiting for a mutual aid ambulance to come transport a patient. With these calls going on, that left the Town of Amherst to be covered by a single firefighter in a firetruck out of the central station. This firefighter responded to 63 South Pleasant Street on their own with no other on duty members available to respond with them. The second firefighter to arrive on scene was the Acting Chief of Department who had to pump the engine to provide water during the initial attack and suppression of this fire.

Acting Chief Stromgren had to take command of the scene while also pumping. This took away from his ability to perform the command and safety functions of his job. This type of response is dangerous for the residents of Amherst and our firefighters. Due to the exemplary and efficient work of your Amherst Firefighters, this fire was extinguished before it could spread further. The outcome of this could have been much worse.

This type of response to a structure fire is unacceptable. The national standard for staffing of an engine is four firefighters. Unfortunately, this is far from the first time that this type of response to a structure fire has happened in town. The Amherst Fire Department routinely has a single firefighter on an engine due to the fact that we cross-staff our engines and our ambulances. With this model, only one truck may be staffed, leaving the other type of truck inadequately staffed.

Your Amherst Firefighters have brought this to the attention of the Town Manager and the Town Council many times and it continues to fall on deaf ears. Amherst Firefighters Local 1764 will continue to fight for safe staffing of the Amherst Fire Department. We will always provide the residents and visitors of Amherst the highest level public safety possible.

Sarah Forsaith

Sarah Forsaith is president of Amherst Firefighters Local 1764

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4 thoughts on “Letter: Understaffing Amherst Fire Department Endangers Community

  1. The town of Amherst needs to do a reality check with how they spend the Townspeople’s money. Please, let’s reprioritize the spending in terms of actual importance and if there is money left without digging deeper into the property owners pockets, then we can look at non-priority projects. Fire, police, DPW first, pet projects later.

  2. Perhaps the Amherst Fire Department should adopt the organizational model of FDNY (Fire Department of the City of New York) where EMS (Emergency Medical Services) are part of the fire department but ambulances are separately staffed. My daughter is a Rescue and Hazardous Materials Paramedic with FDNY., where she staffs only ambulances. She responds jointly with fire fighters when an ambulance is needed or protocols require an ambulance on standby. This approach would free up Amherst fire fighters to respond to fire calls. Also it may be less expensive for the town because the additional staff need only be paramedics, not both paramedics and fire fighters. This system has worked for FDNY since New York City EMS became part of FDNY nearly thirty years ago.

  3. I would add schools to Mr. Cuddy’s list of fundamental responsibilities, and include roads under DPW, both of which the town government is similarly failing.

  4. My understanding is that all Amherst firefighters are also paramedics.

    And let’s add the out of scale, and out of control, Jones Library demolition-expansion project to the list.

    The life of the mind is a great thing. But first you must have the life of the body.

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