EDITOR’S NOTE: This column initially appeared in the print edition of the Gloucester Daily Times on Saturday, Sept. 29, but due to technical problems, it never appeared online. We are posting it now for our online readers.
It may be a long way from Michigan where I was born and raised, but the two places have more in common than I’d realized, most of all the wonderful people who care about their community.
It was an honor to take leadership of the Gloucester Fire Department in mid-July. At the time, I knew I had a lot to learn in a short period of time and this is where I have focused my energies during the first few months on the job.
I am pleased to report that I am now familiar with the procedural and administrative operations of the Gloucester Fire Department, and moreover, moving forward with a planned evaluation of the department’s operational readiness and capital needs. By conducting a complete assessment of the Fire Department, the administration and the department’s leadership will be able to prioritize and make progress on the most critical areas. In terms of capital investment, there are some clear needs within the department. An improvement in the radio systems is No. 1. It is imperative that the department modernize the system in a complete, integrated manner rather than a piece-meal approach. I realize the city has invested about $100,000 recently in communications, but the system is still not up to an acceptable standard. I have witnessed the shortcoming firsthand when responding to incidents, and I know my colleagues in the department are equally concerned about this.
In addition, the department needs to invest in new vehicles, especially following the recent decommission of older equipment.
In terms of personnel, I am quite aware of the longstanding issues related to station staffing. We are evaluating the situation and hoping to make recommendations in the coming months that will need the support of the administration, City Council and community. At the same time, we need to begin negotiations with the leadership of Local 762 International Association of Fire Fighters to secure a new contract before the expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement on June 30, 2013.
We are also focused on providing increased training to all members of the department to ensure Gloucester always adopts best practices from the fire prevention and fire protection industry.
As we move forward, I must mention the professionalism and esprit de corps in the department. Our firefighters are extremely proud of their service. They also are supportive of progress and truly want what’s best for the city. They take great pride in the accomplishments of their fellow firefighters. I had the privilege of attending Friday’s graduation from the State Fire Academy in Stow of two probationary staff who have been immersed in training.
The entire department welcomes these firefighters to our ranks, and we are on our way to hiring additional staff to replace personnel that have left the department recently. The Gloucester Fire Department is committed to protecting and serving the residents of Gloucester. The department responds to thousands of emergency calls every year, ranging from fires to vehicular accidents to medical emergencies — any emergency where our forces are needed. Based on my experiences so far, the residents of this city are terrific people. I have had a tremendous reception. Everybody has been very welcoming to my entire family. The community is a great place to be, especially living near the ocean in such a beautiful setting.
Thank you, Gloucester, for letting me get to know you. I am proud to serve you.
Eric L. Smith is chief of the Gloucester Fire Department.