CHARLTON, Mass. A few local communities have it, some are in the throes of planning for it and Charlton is about to get it: staffed fire and EMT service 24 hours a day, seven days a week, starting July 1.
A significant advance in the plan for around-the-clock staffing came with the May town meeting approval of a $1.3 million fiscal 2008 fire department budget. The vote provided a 16.6 percent increase over this year, primarily in salary and equipment.
A $165,000 component of the plan, a state-of-the-art 2007 McCoy Miller ambulance, has just arrived and the final need, recruitment of one additional firefighter-EMT, is in the works.
"I believe it is very necessary to have coverage 24-7 for the people in the town and surrounding communities," Fire Chief Charles E. Cloutier Jr. said in a recent interview.
The Charlton Fire Department was established in 1925 as an on-call department. In April 1989, three full-time firefighter-EMTs were hired. Today, the department employs 14 full-time and 28 on-call firefighter-EMTs. The chief and one administrative assistant add to the roster.
The main station, located at 10 Power Station Road, is staffed from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week. The substation at 54 North Main St. is unmanned and is used to house four vehicles.
Typically there are six members on the 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. shift, and three on the early morning and evening shifts.
From 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., on-call responders are from a roster of volunteers, who are called at home.
EMT calls after 10 p.m. are telephoned in to those who have volunteered to work the night hours. They drive to the station, pick up the ambulance and drive to the call. Fire calls after hours are received by the police dispatcher. The volunteer firefighters are paged to drive to the station, outfit, and head to the fire.
The new staffing places firefighter-EMTs at the station around the clock and will reduce response time. This, Chief Cloutier said, is the primary goal of the plan coming together for July 1.
"The goal set by the National Fire Protection Association is to have someone on scene within four minutes. Right now, it's about 20 minutes," he said.
The department covers 44 square miles of land, about 300 miles of roadway, and protects more than 14,000 residents. It responds to about 1,800 calls each year with 11 pieces of fire equipment, two cars and now three paramedic-level ambulances.
"More and more people, knowing that we will be here in the nighttime hours, will be more inclined to call. It has a tendency to increase call volume," the chief said, noting the third ambulance will be used in a regular rotation to handle the anticipated increase in calls.