By Marjorie Nesin
---- — As a first step toward reducing the overtime hours that have wracked up millions of dollars on the Fire Department budget each year, the department now has three new firefighters on board, filling out GFD roster after their hiring this spring.
The department, which has long subsisted on four crews of 17 or 18, last week signed a contract to restructure to three groups of 24 firefighters, with each firefighter working more base hours, starting July 2014, in an effort to cut the plaguing overtime hours.
“It’s getting the staffing levels back where they need to be, even if we didn’t do this,” Fire Chief Eric Smith said Wednesday.
The department hired three new firefighters about four weeks ago. As Massachusetts firefighters must be hired by a department before they can attend firefighter training at the academy, unlike most other states, Smith said. Gloucester’s newest firefighters received their shift assignments and will work until their fire academy training in November.
“We had a lot of great applicants that came along with great credentials, but they don’t have the fire academy training,” Smith said.
Our three newest recruits hold some of those strong resumes, two air force veterans and one experienced EMT.
Andrew Pierce, a 29-year-old Gloucester native, recently earned an associates degree in fire science at North Shore Community College. Pierce had joined the Air Force after high school and spent four years in active duty, then returned to the north shore and working at a few different jobs, before deciding to follow his aspirations of becoming a firefighter.
“I’ve been wanting to do it for a while now, and it was just putting the right steps in motion to do it,” Pierce said. “So far I love it. There’s a lot to learn.”
Pierce had become acquainted with another new hire, 25-year-old David Elwell, when the two — both born and raised in Gloucester— crossed paths on duty in Iraq. Elwell too had joined the Air Force after high school, spending six years as a firefighter in flight lines.
Elwell, who had always wanted to become a firefighter and figured military service would be a great route, is happy to return to Gloucester, where all of his family still lives.
“It’s been pretty great. I’m excited to be at work every day,” Elwell said.
The third new department member, 25-year-old Patrick Legro of Tewksbury, graduated from Northeastern University with a bachelors degree in criminal justice in 2011, then weighed the idea of entering a police force versus a fire department. His EMS work, which began even two years before he finished college, helped guide his decision.
“I’d been feeling out all the different aspects of public safety, and I had some options in the police side,” Legro said. “But my heart really was in fire service.”
Legro has been commuting from Tewskbury, but looks forward to moving to Gloucester in the next month or so and looks forward to relocating.
“I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to work at this fire department with such a great tradition, in such a beautiful city,” he said.
A number of Gloucester firefighters also received commendation at a swearing in and awards ceremony, just days before the three new members joined the team.
Dean DeCoste, received an off duty award for his work in assisting a Gloucester High School student whose wrist was sliced with a hockey skate blade at a game this winter.
Lifesaving commendations also went out to Deputy Andrew McRobb, Capt. Phil Harvey, Firefighters Bruce Wonsan, Daryl Wonsan, Arthur Wonsan, Tony Trupiano, and firefighter paramedics Jason LoCoco, Rob Gerety and Josh Severance.
The department issued formal thank you letters to firefighters Greg Marchant and Chris Karvelas, Captain Matteo LoGrande, Acting Captains Tom Sayess, John McCarthy and Tim Gallagher and Acting Deputy Joe Aiello.
Firefighters who worked the Summer Street fire that ended in the death of a 15-year-old girl in April were also honored at the ceremony.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at email@example.com.