Hampden prepares for fire station improvements, sees cash influx

Sept. 2, 2021 | Sarah Heinonen

HAMPDEN –   The Hampden Board of Selectmen announced plans to tour the East Longmeadow, Monson and Wilbraham Fire stations with Fire Chief Ed Poulin to gather ideas on how to improve the Hampden Fire Station.

At the Aug. 30 meeting board meeting, Chair Donald Davenport asked Poulin about the space required for operations, including gearing up for fire calls. Poulin explained that firefighters usually put their “turnout” gear on in a dedicated room that allows them to prepare quickly. The Hampden station does not have a turnout room, leaving firefighters to get dressed in the cramped area where the gear is hung.

Responders decontaminate their gear before returning to the station, but only one set of gear can be thoroughly cleaned of chemicals at a time at the station. The fire department received a grant for the equipment to do that, called an extractor, last year. Due to a lack of space, installation of the necessary machine required them to cut a hole in the wall of the women’s bathroom.

Another essential piece of equipment, the department’s generator, has been in need of replacement for some time. “Sometimes it doesn’t start,” Poulin shared, at which point the firefighters must open the oversized garage doors by hand. “Closing them is the hard part,” Poulin said with a chuckle.

Board of Selectmen member John Flynn said a generator should be eligible for purchase under federal coronavirus funding, known as the CARES Act.

Emergency Dispatch Director Anthony Gentile told the board on Aug. 30 that he had pursued a grant to secure push-to-talk devices that will directly connect Hampden Highway Department with dispatchers. The emergency radio system that was acquired in 2020 does not include equipment for the Highway Department.

The 17 new devices will use cellular towers to “add to the quick response” of road crews in emergency situations. The company that offers the devices would also offer a cell phone app with the service. “They are very flexible with what they will offer us for their service,” Gentile said.

A multi-town agreement may be possible to bring fiber-optic connections to Hampden, Wilbraham and Longmeadow. Town Administrator Bob Markel reported that his counterpart in Wilbraham, Town Administrator Nick Breault, said all the towns’ have all expressed interest in Whip City Fiber. He floated the idea of partnering, which would increasing their negotiating power.

Markel said providing fast internet service will allow the town to retain and recruit “young people” into the community who want to work from home.

The town will follow through Board of Selectmen member Craig Rivest’s recommendation of a joint meeting between Hampden’s Fiber Optic Committee and Wilbraham’s IT director, Nate DeLong.

Town Accountant Cliff Bombard expects the free cash account to contain about $700,000 when certified later this year. The savings from dispatch costs to the police department budget alone will be $216,123 with additional savings from retirement costs. There are two options for this money, he said – pay down the debt burden and lower taxes or add the stabilization account, which acts as a municipal savings account.

Bombard cautioned, “This was a strange year and a lot of things fell into place to generate this kind of free cash.” He warned the board not to expect a similar windfall at the end of FY22.

The Board of Assessors and the Council on Aging (COA) are both requesting salary increases of $2,300 for their departments. COA Director Rebecca Moriarty said that she had two resignations and had shifted duties compensate.This led to an increase of five hours per week in one position. She asked the board to continue to fund the extra hours through the end of the fiscal year in June 2022. At that point she would hire to fill one of her vacancies.

Jason Barroso, a member of the Board of Assessors, requested that Principal Assessor Kelly McCormick’s position be adjusted from a Grade 6, Step 6 to a Grade 6, Step 8.

“We feel the principal assessor’s position wasn't accurately depicted,” in the Collins Center study which recently reset town employee compensation rates, Barroso said. He told the board the McCormick had experience as an assessor, a real estate agent and in other positions within the field and those qualities were not considered.

Furthermore, he said that the Collins Center had miscalculated the comparison with the Palmer Assessor, whose position in 32 hours per week, rather than 40 hours. He asked that her salary be increased by $2,300.

“And I heard you have all this free cash,” Barroso joked.

 The board decided to vote on the increases at its next scheduled meeting.

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