Peterborough maintains on-call, paid department
Peterborough Fire is an on-call, paid Fire Department. There are only two paid, benefited employees, the fire chief and the clinical director. All other members are paid when they respond to calls or work shifts in the fire station. The standby crews on the 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift who respond to calls from home receive one hour’s pay for standing by and then, if they respond to a call, they receive their regular pay.
In 2004, the Town of Peterborough recognized that it needed to supplement the on-call fire and rescue staff — those who respond from home or work only when needed — with call members working in the fire station during specific hours and available to respond immediately. This need was identified because the ambulance and fire apparatus were not getting out to respond to calls from the residents, businesses, visitors of Peterborough or the contracted and mutual aid communities in a timely fashion. At times, the ambulances and fire apparatus did not respond at all.
At that time, the department was responding to a total of 1,120 emergency calls per year, averaging three per day. Our members were leaving their regular jobs in order to respond to these emergency calls an average of six hours per day. In fact, we had members working at their regular places of employment until midnight sometimes, making up for the lost office time. Due to these issues, Town Administrator Pam Brenner requested that the Fire Department senior command staff conduct a cost analysis for a program to hire on-call personnel to staff the fire station from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.
This program was accepted and implemented, and provided great relief for our staff coming in from home or work to answer emergency calls. This program also reduced the overall workload for our members, since the on-call staff at the station handle the first call for service that comes in, fire or ambulance. Most importantly, we reduced our response times from 30 minutes to three to five minutes to any call in Peterborough, which greatly improved the pre-hospital care for injured parties.
This program has expanded to where it is today, with two ambulances staffed from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week, and a third ambulance is back-filled when needed. That is, when two of the ambulances are out on calls, then we call in two members to cover the third ambulance. The overnight shift is staffed with a paramedic in the station and a crew that responds from home. By putting this program in place, it has assisted with staffing retention, but we still only retain one out of every five people that apply to be a firefighter or EMT as it is a time commitment many people find they cannot sustain.
In order for an applicant to apply for a position, they must have their EMT Basic when they come on board and continue to stay licensed during their career. The department will support further advancement in the EMS division. The department also supports new members in attaining fire certifications, if they wish to participate in the suppression division. Members are required to attend a department meeting, fire training and EMS training once a month. Members are also required to work an on-call night shift for emergency medical calls, and are asked to work a transfer shift once a month. Transfers are when we move patients from Monadnock Community Hospital to Catholic Medical Center, for instance. We have been doing these transfers for two years now.
Sixty-five of our members are certified EMS providers to some level of licensing and 45 of our members are fire certified. Last year, Peterborough responded to 2,576 emergency calls — more than double the number from 2004 — and 8,145 non-emergency responses, or 29 activities per day. Peterborough Fire is second in the mutual aid system, next to Keene, in number of responses.
Joseph P. Lenox III has been in the fire service for 42 years. He retired from Concord, Mass., as chief and has been serving in Peterborough for nine years as chief. He holds chief fire officer credentials from the University of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services.