By Marjorie Nesin
---- — After hearing the suspenseful story of one resident’s 12 minute wait for a city ambulance, Gloucester’s city councilors are formally urging the mayor to provide extra funds to the Fire Department that would open the outlier stations full-time.
A unanimous vote at a special meeting Tuesday night asked the mayor to fund Bay View station enough to immediately open it full-time through the fiscal year. A second vote, with only one councilor dissenting, asked the mayor to request the funds to open the long-closed Magnolia Station full-time starting in January.
Councilor Paul McGeary said he voted in opposition to show his disapproval of the emergency handling, believing the vote should have followed the normal process, waiting for another meeting.
The emergency declaration, McGeary said, could send off the impression that the council was “the boys who cry wolf.”
“I was concerned that by using that essentially parliamentary fiction that it could be misinterpreted to say there is a public safety emergency,” McGeary said. “My objection was not to funding full staffing at the fire stations. It was that we were doing it on an emergency basis.”
Mayor Carolyn Kirk signed a contract with the Fire Department last month that would reorganize the staffing, allowing stations to open full time by the start of a new fiscal year on July 1, 2014. Fire Chief Eric Smith said the delayed swap over allows time to figure out some kinks and additional overtime funding would serve the city better than a rush to the new set up.
Smith estimated that in order for the fire department to open Bay View full time, the city would need to wrangle up to $800,000 for overtime pay. Come January, adding Magnolia Station to the full time open list, would require another $400,000 chunk of cash.
“It’s a significant investment,” Smith said. “That’s the point of this transition to the new system with the new schedule. It is a large investment as well, but it’s an investment done in an appropriate manner, everything is structured and we’re not looking at the whims of overtime.”
But, even if the city finds the funds to pay the overtime compensation needed to open the stations, the Magnolia Station that has been closed for many years and recently began undergoing renovations, could still need vital construction work before opening.
“There’s a lot of moving parts to this thing so that year of leading is a good thing for us to get it all worked out. To rush it, you kind of run the risk of running before you can crawl,” Smith said. “Right now to try to accelerate that process is probably not the right thing to do. To patch across it with funding of overtime is more reasonable.”
Councilors had urged the mayor to increase fire department funding after hearing the story of Lanes Cove resident Barbara Jobe, whose husband waited twelve minutes for an ambulance to arrive from central station while suffering a heart attack. The couple lives just over a mile from the Bay View Station, but the station closed that night like many other nights.
Jobe sent a letter to councilors about her terrifying wait and Councilor Bruce Tobey called for a special meeting to address her concerns about the outlier stations closing frequently. Along with the fire department funding vote, he had asked the council to vote on a second motion that would prevent the city from signing any leases to rent buildings not owned by the city, aiming to prevent the school from leasing the former Charter School building.
Councilors voted against adding the vote on signing leases to the agenda.
Tobey noted some successes that came out of the meeting, in his eyes.
“The mayor is now going to be held accountable on whether or not she is going to provide funding to open Bay View for the balance of the fiscal year, and the same for Magnolia starting Jan. 1,” Tobey said. “We will now find out if the mayor will support the full investment in public safety that the community deserves.”
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.