By Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter
Shrewsbury – It isn’t a secret that the Shrewsbury Fire Department is understaffed, according to Fire Chief Jim Vuona.
“We are sorely lacking not only for staffing but for supervision,” Vuona said. “I put that in every year-end report that I’ve done for the last 10 years.”
Vuona said that recently the department has received four grants, one of which is a federal grant that will directly support additional staffing while the others will supplement the needs of the department.
According to the Fire Department 2018 year-end Report filed by Vuona, “We continue to operate with a staffing level that was established at Town Meeting back in 1987. For perspective purposes, it should be noted that in 1987 the population in Shrewsbury was 22,547 people and that today’s population exceeds 35,000. …To adequately protect our community, the Town should consider incrementally adding 8-10 full-time positions to the Fire Department over the next five (5) years.”
Vuona said that the two satellite stations, Harrington Avenue and Centech Blvd., currently operate with only two firefighters on sight with no back-up supervision. With additional staffing he can shift personnel to provide the necessary support for those stations.
Additionally, he hopes to add the position of Rank of Lieutenant within to mitigate the lack of direct supervision at the outlying stations.
The largest of the four grants is through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA,) and is a Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response (SAFER) Grant in the amount of $570,525 dollars for the purpose of improving firefighter safety by aligning understaffed fire departments with national standards and industry best practices.
Vuona credits Shrewsbury Fire Grant Specialist Firefighter Michael Borowiec who spearheaded the effort with Westborough Fire Chief Patrick Purcell and Northborough Fire Chief David Parenti who provided assistance and peer review.
“This will fund four firefighter positions for three years. In years one and two the federal part of the grant pays 75 percent of the salaries and benefits and 25 percent will be paid by the town. In the third year it switches and the federal government pays 35 percent and the town will be on the hook for 65 percent,” Vuona explained.
When asked if the town can absorb this cost and if it was sustainable, Vuona said, “I believe that it is. This is the most cost effective way. In the talks that we’ve been having with Town Hall, it has always been to add eight more people to the department.”
He hopes to have the new hires onboard by November of this year.
“This is great that we got the grant but it gets us about halfway to where we need to be,” he remarked. “[Town Manager] Kevin Mizikar has been very supportive and I think the selectmen are really trying to work with us to get us to the level we need to get to.”
The second grant, also a federal grant, is a Fire Prevention and Safety Grant in the amount of $14,286, with a local match of $714, which will work in conjunction with the department’s SAFE Program supporting education and community outreach in the schools and at the senior center.
The other two grants are through the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA.)
Vuona said that one will bolster the emergency shelters in town and the other will allow the department to purchase a fit testing machine for testing their air supply and masks. Both of these grants, together, totaled roughly $20,000.