An independent review of the Oak Bluffs fire department turned up a series of needed improvements, including better record keeping, clearer policies and procedures and improved communication between town and fire authorities.
The report was prepared by Roy E. Jones, 3rd, a retired Brewster fire chief who was hired to do the study in the fall of 2012. Mr. Jones conducted interviews of 15 affiliates of the fire department, reviewed records and met with selectmen and the town administrator. The report was requested by the selectmen for the purpose of modernizing the department and identifying areas for improvement.
“The idea was to review the department, see where it was, was it coming into this century and what could be done to help it,” explained Mr. Jones in a phone interview this week.
The report found the fire department record keeping is poor, and recommended certain changes in leadership structure, procedures, training and communication between the ambulance service and the fire department.
The department has been without a permanent chief since Peter Forend resigned in March of this year. Acting chief John Rose was named by the Oak Bluffs selectmen to lead the department on an interim basis in late May.
“There may be past leadership challenges that did not bring out a greater consideration of the department as a whole,” Mr. Rose wrote in his report. He found that formal record keeping was inadequate, especially for minor incidents and training records. These administrative tasks have been poorly attended to because the chief’s position has been part-time in the past, the consultant said. He suggested that the position be full time, and be extended to oversee the EMS ambulance service. In at least 18 fire districts in Barnstable County, the fire chief oversees EMS services. In addition, Mr. Rose recommended the appointment of an assistant chief of EMS operations, as well as a liaison to improve communication between the fire department and the selectmen. His interviews revealed a perceived shortage of overt appreciation shown for the volunteer firefighters.
The report noted possibly poor hiring procedures, after a firefighter who had recently been brought on board had reported that the process was primarily word of mouth.
Mr. Rose also noted that a number of the fire department members wear beards, which he considers a “major safety hazard,” according to the report. “You cannot normally get a good seal in a self-contained breathing apparatus base piece with a beard, because the beard will cause gaps in the way the seal is and therefore smoke and bad gases can get into your mask,” he explained. The National Fire Protection Association recommends strongly against facial hair for firefighters.
Despite the needed areas of improvement identified, Mr. Jones said the department is heading in the right direction. He said there is a “tremendous desire in the groups that I interviewed to make the department better,” which leads him to believe that the department has “tremendous potential.” And he said the acting chief intends to begin implementation of the recommendations.
Though the report is technically a draft, Mr. Jones said he is not sure whether it needs to be made officially final. “I wrote it basically as goals and to leave it open-ended is just for interpretation to assist going forward,” he said. Once he recovers from two recent operations, the selectmen may ask him to come to the Island for a consultation.
At a working session of the selectmen Tuesday, Mr. Rose asked the board for approval of $20,000 in stipends to augment the salaries of fire department personnel, including the assistant chiefs, the deputy chief and the six captains. Oak Bluffs has the lowest paid deputy and assistant chiefs on the Island, Mr. Rose said.