In a significant change to Oak Bluffs fire department protocol, all full-time emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and paramedics are now required to become certified firefighters. New job descriptions, developed by Chief John Rose in conjunction with the town personnel board, and unanimously approved by the board of selectmen at its last meeting, require all full-time EMTs and paramedics to obtain “Firefighter 1” certification within two years. The same policy will apply to new hires.
“Since both departments are combined, we thought this change made a lot of sense,” personnel board chairman Gretchen Coleman Thomas told The Times. “Most towns on the Cape have already done this and it’s worked out well.”
Mr. Rose said the impetus for the change was to ease the demands on volunteer firefighters. “We’ve been putting too much of the burden on volunteers,” he said. “A lot of our guys have second jobs and it can be hard for them to make drill on the weekends. It can also be tough for employers when people are called off the job to respond to a call.”
Mr. Rose said the volume of calls has increased considerably in recent years, especially during the summer.
Volunteers will still be called for major events. There are 50 active volunteer firefighters and 20 to 25 volunteer EMTs currently serving the town. The full-time staff will respond to routine calls, including automatic alarms that are rarely an emergency. “In the past year we responded to 256 automatic fire alarms,” Mr. Rose said. “A very small percentage of those were actually fire-related.”
The hybrid positions will come with a pay increase of roughly a dollar an hour for current employees. “By being proactive and spending a little bit now, we’ll save the taxpayers money in the long run,” Mr. Rose said. Roughly $30,000 has already been allocated in the town budget to fund the change.
The department currently has three openings for full-time emergency responders. Mr. Rose said applications have been received from on and off Island and he hopes to fill the positions by January, 2015. When the hiring is complete, the fire department will have 10 full-time firefighter/EMT/paramedics, one full-time administrative assistant and one part-time assistant.
At town meeting in April, voters approved a $337,756 budget for emergency medical services and $226,613 for the fire department.