| G. Michael Dobbs
HAMPDEN – Hampden Fire Chief Michael Gorski is appealing to voters leading up to the Town Meeting on May 8 to support the creation of a call Fire Department.
Gorski told Reminder Publications the days when most Hampden residents worked in the town – making a vital volunteer fire department a reality – are over.
He said Hampden is not an exception, as nationally the participation in volunteer fire departments is waning.
Residents will consider a change from a volunteer department to a call department which would hire three firefighters to cover the day shift Monday through Friday at a cost of $141,000. There would be an additional $65,000 allocated to pay volunteers who do respond to a fire.
Gorski said trying to recruit people as volunteer firefighters is increasingly difficult.
“To keep the critical mass [of firefighters] we need to pay them,” Gorksi said.
He noted that 51 percent of the calls to the Fire Department happen during the day.
Recently some high profile fires in the town pointed out the department is “very under-staffed” Gorski added. The lack of firefighters contributes to response times and the chief noted that with a fire minutes count.
The Fire Department will be hosting an informational open house about the warrant article on April 28 from 8 a.m. to noon at the fire station. According to an invitation posed on the department’s Facebook page, “Volunteers will be available to answer your questions, tour you through the fire station and show you how well we care for your equipment. Learn why weekday calls are severely understaffed. Learn about the public safety risk to your family and property.? Learn why recruitment and retention of volunteers is down nationally and here in Hampden.? Discuss the proposal and its cost/benefit to our community.”
The Facebook post continued. “The proposal is designed to; 1) lower the public safety risk to people and property by hiring three fire fighters to cover our currently unmanned station during weekdays to ensure that the Fire Department can respond to calls when we may not have anyone in town available to respond; and 2) to help us recruit and retain volunteers fire fighters by paying them on a call by call basis when they do respond.”
Gorski said, “I know people are considering it. It boils down to how much risk are you willing to take?”