Selectmen are wrong
The East Longmeadow Selectmen think the town doesn't need a Fire Chief anymore, and has proposed combining the job with that of the Chief of Police, for a notional savings of $60-$75,000 dollars yearly.
I disagree and offer several reasons why East Longmeadow needs to keep a Fire Chief.
First, the system we have now works very well. Every year the East Longmeadow Fire Department handles hundreds of emergencies, ranging from building fires to medical emergencies. There were 28 fires causing property damage in East Longmeadow in 2009 alone, 230 fires between 2004 and 2009, and in 2007 the ELFD put out the fire at Bluebird Estates, the largest and most destructive fire in the history of the town. That workload doesn't even count car accidents or EMT work. Right now, any town resident can expect a swift and competent response to a fire, car accident, hazmat spill, or heart attack, plus assistance with smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and fire prevention. This is a big part of what makes East Longmeadow a good place to live. Why disrupt what works?
Second, a Fire Chief position in a town like East Longmeadow is not a desk job. Firefighting is a very complicated and demanding process, and the Fire Chief is the on-scene commander in charge of putting the fire out. This role requires years of experience and extensive education and training, and should only be filled by a trained specialist. It is not the sort of role that can be reduced to another "hat" for the police chief to wear without seriously reducing the effectiveness of both the Fire and Police departments (since we wouldn't have a full-time Police Chief either). We might as well lay off the Police Chief and put the Librarian in charge of law enforcement.
Third, the combined office idea just doesn't work. Many other towns and cities in Massachusetts and other states have already tried combining the jobs of Fire Chief and Police Chief, and most of them have found that it didn't work, as police and fire effectiveness declined, expected savings never materialized, and costs ballooned.
Out of the cities and towns that have tried the combined arrangement, nearly all of them have abandoned it. In fact, just three months ago the town of Hopedale found that it actually saved money when it returned to separate Fire and Police offices after 13 years with a combined Department of Public Safety. Why imitate someone else's mistakes?
Fourth, the idea is still questionable even if the police chief will handle just the administrative duties, with a deputy in charge of firefighting if we have to give the chief and the deputy each a raise to compensate for the added responsibility, we're not even going to save enough money to make the idea worth doing in the first place.
Being careful with money is a good thing, yes, but if the Selectmen and the Town Meeting are serious about saving money, there are better places to look. The Fire Department already has one of the smaller budgets of the town departments, a quarter the size of the Police Department budget, a fifth of what we spend on Public Works (even without snow plowing), and less than 3 percent of the School Department budget.
Sharing buildings makes sense. Sharing dispatch offices makes sense.
Sharing a chief is a very bad idea.