To say that new Gloucester Fire Chief Eric Smith has had a busy first year in his post would be a classic understatement.
In the field, Smith had to lead the Fire Department during a sometimes frightening period in January and February, when a rash of fires included a fatal blaze off Western Avenue. And in April, he, the department and the community as a whole grappled with the loss of a teenaged girl whom firefighters pulled from a blaze on Summer Street but, sadly, could not revive.
Those fires led Smith to launch a series of fire safety outreach programs that included firefighters’ visits to local schools. But his greatest community service is still evolving — a new contract provision that, by at least this time next year if not hopefully sooner, will restructure GFD shifts and schedules based on the format of his former department in Michigan and provide the flexibility needed to keep all four stations open virtually all of the time.
To be fair, Smith’s financial backing from Mayor Carolyn Kirk, who has funneled more money into the department and backed the new contract, which will add more hours to each firefighter’s weekly shift and bring significant boosts in annual pay, has partially fueled his success to date. Yet it’s important to note that the changes spearheaded by Smith, who stepped in after three-plus years of interim and then acting chiefs, are recognized by the mayor as good investments in Gloucester’s public safety.
We congratulate him on a first year of work well done, and look forward to his next steps toward open stations, and the level of protection residents deserve.