By Susan Gonsalves, Contributing Writer
SOUTHBOROUGH – Although Southborough’s Board of Selectmen noted national accreditation for the fire department may be a good thing to have, several members opposed the $10,000 cost included in the fiscal year 2023 proposed budget for it during discussion at a Jan. 18 meeting.
Fire Chief Steven Achilles explained that, over the last two years, the department completed two of the three requirements necessary in the accreditation process. Those included a community risk assessment/standard of cover document and strategic planning.
The next steps include becoming an applicant agency and completing a self-assessment manual.
Accreditation is granted by the Commission on Fire Accreditation International, a program under the Center for Public Safety Excellence.
The designation comes with no additional personnel costs. However, money was budgeted to pay for the on-site assessment, travel costs to present the report for consideration and a one-time application fee.
Achilles said the intention is to become an applicant agency in the first quarter of the 2023 fiscal year.
However, Selectmen Chair Lisa Braccio said that no other fire departments with populations under 50,000 people are accredited in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. She said the nearest communities are Hartford, Connecticut and River Junction, Vermont.
“How can I justify this [expense]? Is it the time to do this?” Braccio asked.
She added that there is a lot going on in the fire department and said she appreciates the chief’s efforts “trying to move it forward.”
Selectman Sam Stivers said he supported pursuing accreditation because it is good for morale and a boost to professionalism in the department. He added that accreditation “gives the department something to be proud of—regardless of how many have it.”
He noted that the department had already done two of the three steps required for accreditation and said it should complete the process.
Achilles said this accreditation is important enough that he would shift funds the department receives from Harvard University to cover the costs.
Stivers said, however, that he felt Harvard funds should be used for other things.
Vice Chair Chelsea Malinowski said the taxpayers have been very good to the fire department. She said she thinks morale is fine there. Although some of the parts of accreditation are “valuable,” she said, she couldn’t support it coming out of the budget.
Selectman Martin Healey said that, any time a new line item appears in the budget, it raises red flags.
“Anything new is a particularly hard sell for me and I suspect the taxpayers,” Healey said. “It’s a great idea to be a leader in accreditation…but not in FY23 and not in the budget.”
He encouraged the fire chief to find the money elsewhere or delay this step by a year.
Achilles noted that accreditation has been a goal of his since he was hired. He likened the process to going through freshmen and sophomore years of college and taking a “gap year,” before finishing school. It is not something he is in favor of doing.