WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. – The Williamstown Fire District needs to work on the message it conveys to potential recruits and consider new service models to make it a more attractive option for residents.
This was part of the message the prudential committee received last week from the community advisory committee that the committee created last year.
Jeffrey Thomas, who chairs the advisory group, has dropped the first in-person meeting of the Prudential Committee since before the pandemic to share some of his group’s contributions.
Recruiting new firefighters has long been a concern of the prudential committee, which oversees the district, and Thomas has come up with suggestions for concrete steps the committee could take to strengthen its ranks.
“One thing that we felt was important was to raise awareness that once volunteers are trained, they are paid for their hours and services,” said Thomas. “A lot of people hear ‘volunteering’ and assume it’s an unpaid position. It’s not true.”
Besides the chief, the only full-time position in the service, the other firefighters are paid on-call volunteers who receive an hourly rate for their response time to calls.
Thomas said the wait for firefighters to be available full-time can be off-putting for potential recruits, citing the contribution of a community member he spoke to about the department.
“He works full time and his wife works full time,” Thomas said. “He might be interested in volunteering, but when he hears the chef talk about what it entails – 24/7 availability, 12 months a year – for him, he said he didn’t was not sure he could do it.
“We understand that the most important volunteers are fully trained and fully available volunteers. We understand this. But we also think there are probably a number of people who would consider volunteering if it was a little less commitment. Maybe it’s six months out of the year or being trained to do things outside of the fire but still valuable or maybe other role models. We’re not experts, but maybe creating other ways for people to volunteer could be a way to get more people involved. “
The advisory committee also recommended that the Fire District prioritize the recruitment of women with the goal of increasing diversity in its ranks and increasing the visibility of the need for firefighters.
“We’re not sure that many people in the community understand the need,” Thomas said.
The advisory committee also suggested that the district find more creative ways to attract the interest of potential firefighters – from “job fair” type events at the station to competitive fitness tests.
“Maybe you could do some physical obstacle course type things,” he said. “I think there are some physical fitness tests that some fire departments do where people can come and basically try for the fire department. There are a lot of athletic and competitive people in town, and they might react to that. “
During last week’s discussion with the prudential committee, another idea that popped up was to develop a junior firefighter program that could generate more interest in becoming a full member of the department. Prudential Committee Chairman Richard Reynolds suggested the district form a task force to explore what such a program might look like.
On Tuesday, district treasurer Corydon Thurston informed the committee that the request for design services developed by the district building committee had been posted on the central state registry with a due date of June 30. Reynolds said the district has applied for a federal grant program of up to $ 400,000 to help support the construction project. And David Moresi again raised the question of whether firefighters should be deployed more to respond to accidents in the city.
“I was approached by members of the EMS,” Moresi said. “They are rather upset by some of the recent accidents that have occurred and the lack of response from the firefighters.
“As far as I know, this is the only department in Berkshire County that does not respond to accidents most of the time. This is something that needs to be resolved.”
Moresi pointed to a recent accident involving a utility pole that could have involved live wires.
Chief Craig Pedercini said he shares Moresi’s concern and the dispatcher’s call issue has been around for several years. He said he would contact the director of the Northern Berkshire EMS about it.