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I have been asked by residents if the Reading Fire Department is in need of additional staffing and if so how additional staff would this help the fire department. The Reading Fire Department is responsible for fire suppression, fire prevention, emergency medical treatment and emergency management. Like other Town Departments we are seeing an increase demand for our services.
In August of 2017 an internal study was conducted to determine how the Reading Fire Department compares with the fire departments in the 25 Peer Communities identified by the Finance Committee. We sought data from each of these communities in a wide range of areas such as: population, staffing, number of supervisors, Emergency Medical Services, EMS revenues, salary budget, overtime spending and other relevant data. As a result of this request we received data from 24 communities. (You may view this data study in its entirety on our website at https://www.readingma.gov/fire-department).
The Reading Fire Department’s staffing consists of a Chief, Assistant Chief, five Captains, four Lieutenants, thirty six Firefighters, one Secretary and two part time Fire Alarm Technicians. Administrative functions are performed by the Fire Chief, Assistant Fire Chief, Fire Prevention Officer and Department Secretary.
Of the 47 uniformed employees, 44 are assigned to a Firefighting group and their primary focus is on delivery of emergency services. Each day the on duty shift staffs two engines, a ladder truck and an ambulance. Many of our emergency calls require the response of more than one piece of fire apparatus. These calls include emergency medical responses, fires, motor vehicle accidents, construction accidents, hazardous materials incidents and flammable liquid spills. An example would be a motor vehicle accident on Routes 128 or 93, it not unusual for the call to require the response of an engine, ladder truck and the ambulance. If there are significant injuries on scene, the call will require the entire shift to respond.
Today our Firefighter group strength is the same as it was in 1987. In 1987 the Town hired a consultant to review our fire department and one of recommendations made was to increase the department by four Firefighters. Since 1987 our emergency call volume has risen 40% from 2,500 calls for service to 3,500 calls for service annually and the population for Reading has grown from approximately 24,000 to 26,356.
In the last 16 years we have seen the development of the Walkers Brook Drive area and several large residential projects including: the Reading Woods development located off South Street, Reading Commons located off West Street and Johnson Woods located off West Street. We have also seen mixed use development that combines residential and commercial space such as 24-54 Haven Street. When we examined the impact on emergency response we found these developments represented 10% of our call volume in 2016. In the near future we will see construction begin on several more large buildings.
A review of the Town of Reading Economic Development Action Plan 2016-2022 developed by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council indicates Reading’s population is on the increase and growing older. Both factors will increase emergency responses into the future.
When we review the data gathered by the survey our comparable communities we see how Reading and the Reading Fire Department compares to our peers. Highlights of the data received from the 24 comparable communities indicate the following:
- Reading’s population is above the average and we have the 9th highest population.
- Reading’s total number of Firefighters is below the average and ranks 15th out of 24.
- The Reading Fire Department’s total number of supervisors is below the average and ranks 16th out of 24.
- The average fire department staffing for the comparable communities is 1.97 Firefighters per thousand citizens.
- The Reading Fire Department’s total staff per 1,000 citizens is below the average and ranks 18th out of 24 at 1.78 per thousand citizens.
- The Reading Fire Department’s salary expenditures is below the average and ranks 14th out of 24. It is important to highlight that Reading provides emergency medical care at the Advanced Life Support level. Departments that provide this level of service incur more salary costs for training to train and recertify their paramedics.
Although we do not know precisely how Reading will grow or what the actual mix of future development will be, it is clear as a community we are growing and will continue to grow into the near future. The data also predicts the percentage of our population that are seniors will also increase. These factors will result in an increase of emergency medical and fire responses for the Reading Fire Department.
Based upon the factors outlined above it is clear by the data there is a need for additional staffing. If four additional Firefighters were added to the department it would bring us to the average number of Firefighters in our peer communities and will also have the added benefit of reducing overtime expenditures.
Gregory J. Burns
Reading Fire Chief