By Chris Mazachrism@thereminder.com
EAST LONGMEADOW – Fire Chief Paul Morrissette received the blessing of the Board of Selectmen at its June 10 meeting to apply for a spot in a national training program, but concerns of the time commitment remained for the chair.
The board unanimously voted to give Morrissette a letter of recommendation, but Chair Angela Thorpe said that while she valued additional training for personnel, she had concerns regarding the amount of time required to fulfill the requirements of the program.
“I would entertain a motion to write a letter of recommendation for Chief Morrissette, however, if you [Morrissette] get further through the process, I would like to revisit how the time is going to be allotted,” she said.
Morrissette explained that the program, to which he applied last year but was not accepted, requires a four-year commitment with two weeks’ worth of training at the National Fire Academy
in Emmitsburg, Maryland, plus a research project, which he described as similar to a thesis for a college-level course, to be completed upon the officer’s return from the training.
The program is designed for fire chiefs and other high-ranking officers with a focus on making departments more pro-active than reactive to potential fire hazards in their communities.
“It gives the advantage of bringing that knowledge back to the community [and] bringing that knowledge back to the department so that officers beneath that individual can also benefit from the training,” he said.
Morrissette added that while East Longmeadow is a very fire-safe community, he noted “times are changing” and said the information he collects would be utilized to the benefit of the department for years to come.
“My goal throughout my time in the fire department has been to be involved in training from day one,” he said. “I have nine years left before I would even start to think about retiring [and] I can stay for 14 years if I’d like, so I look forward to training.”
Addressing time concerns, Thorpe asked if Morrissette would be willing to utilize one week of his vacation time while attending the training in Maryland.
“I do believe in training also,” she said. “I just want to make sure it’s the best thing for the town.”
Morrissette said fire personnel are not normally required to use their own time to take advantage of training opportunities.
“Typically we never have [taken vacation time] for training,” he said. “I have comp time; I could if that was required, but in the past, even when my guys go to the fire academy, it’s usually during the week. If it’s a program that I’m requesting that they go to, they go on company time. Training is huge in the fire service.”
Thorpe also asked when Morrissette would complete the work for the research project, to which he relied that he would perform that task primarily at night on his own time.
Selectman William Gorman asked Morrissette if he had spoken to anyone who had taken part in the program. Morrissette said he had spoken to fire officials in the eastern part of the state who spoke highly of the program. Thorpe added that her nephew, a captain with a fire department in Florida, also valued the program.
Selectman Paul Federici also stressed the importance that “both our department heads and our employees get the training they need.”