The addition of three new firefighters to the Gloucester Fire Department’s roster will not, on its own, bring about the daily and nightly opening of the city’s Bay View and Magnolia stations in addition to West Gloucester.
Indeed, the welcoming of Andrew Pierce, David Elwell, and Patrick Legro to the department means that the GFD still has little wiggle room when it comes to staffing the outlying stations under the department’s current contract and minimum manning provisions — with all four now including 18 firefighters, the number needed to open all four sites.
That means that, yes, all four stations can be up and running if not a single firefighter is out sick, on vacation or out for any other reason. And if more than two are off, the drop to below 16 stations would mean the city would again have to take what many see as perhaps the most dangerous action — the closure of Bay View, whose location can be critical to reaching any fires or other emergencies in the city’s northern villages, including Annisquam and Lanesville.
Yet the addition of the trio of new firefighters will provide the department with more depth so that, when Chief Eric Smith looks to open Bay View more regularly, the department should not have to call in as many subs as in the past — all of them on overtime. And that should help to ease the strain on the department’s overtime budget, which has been out of control in the past.
The real gains in department fire coverage, of course, will come beginning July 1, 2014, when a new rotation schedule will take effect under the new firefighters’ union contract signed earlier this month. That should indeed open all four stations on a regular basis, since it will break the department into three rotating shifts of 24 firefighters each.
But filling out the current roster is a big help — and can bring even more positive steps if the union and Chief Smith work together to coordinate time off scheduling to minimize the Bay View shutdowns.
In that vein, the hiring of the three new firefighters is a small step – but it is a step in the right direction.