This chart shows the increase in the total number of calls the Falmouth Fire Department gets annually. Courtesy / Criterion and Associates

FALMOUTH — The town should close the Foreside fire station and hire more full-time firefighters to better meet the increasing number of calls for emergency aid, a consultant told the council Monday.

Travis Miller, of consulting firm Criterion and Associates in Massachusetts, made the recommendations after reviewing staffing, the number of calls the Fire Department gets annually and where those calls are coming from.

In addition to closing the Foreside station, Miller said, the Fire Department should immediately have at least five people on duty at Central Station 24/7.

Under that model, two would serve the ambulance and three would serve the fire engine, he said. Ideally, Miller added, there should also be at least two paramedics on duty at the Winn Road station at all times, as well.

That station is now manned by live-in fire students, but they’re not always available to respond to calls.

Miller provided no estimates for how much it might cost to implement his proposals and Town Manager Nathan Poore said he wouldn’t have more details on the impact to the budget until the Finance Committee met Wednesday, after The Forecaster’s deadline.

The Foreside Fire Station is the oldest in town, but has no staff assigned to it. It’s used exclusively by volunteer firefighters, which means the station is rarely occupied, according to Fire Chief Howard Rice.

Miller did not have an estimate of how much could be saved by closing the station, but the town’s cost to maintain it is minimal since the building is used mostly for training. Miller assured the council there would be no impact from the closure of the Foreside station since Central Station, on Bucknam Road, is well located to respond to all of the east side of town.

Of the total 2,216 incidents the Fire Department responded to in 2019, Rice said the volunteer firefighters at Foreside were only called out 269 times. If it closes, that would leave two operational stations in town – at Central station and on Winn Road.

A public hearing on the fire staffing study is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, Feb. 24 at Town Hall.

The five-person crew model Miller is recommending would allow the Fire Department to “reasonably handle” multiple, concurrent calls at any given time, he said. As it stands, trying to respond to multiple calls puts a serious strain on available staff and often means that Rice and other administrators must regularly respond to calls instead of attending to their other duties.

Right now there are only six full-time staff members at the Fire Department: Rice, an assistant chief, a deputy chief, two captains and an administrative assistant. Central Station operates with two per diem firefighter/paramedics per shift.

Optimally over the next five years, Miller said, eight new full-time firefighters should be added at Central Station and five should be added at Winn Road. Ultimately, he said, the town should expect to have a roster of 45 full-time firefighters.

He said using per diem firefighters, as Falmouth is doing now, is “a good interim step,” but added with the number of calls the department is getting, “you simply can’t continue to do per diem at this scale. It’s an inescapable conclusion” that the town will have to hire more full-time firefighters, “especially in the long run.”

While the vast majority of calls are for EMS, Miller said, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Falmouth should hire more paramedics or only paramedics. Miller said in his view, continuing to hire firefighter/paramedics makes sense because you’re getting “two for one.”

Councilors on Monday asked whether there are any policy changes the town could make that might lead to a reduction in call volume. Council Chairwoman Amy Kuhn also asked whether it would be possible for Falmouth to run an EMS department only and rely on regional agreements for fire response.

Miller said many communities have attempted a variety of solutions “but none have found the silver bullet yet. You need to provide a base level of service,” and that’s why “(nothing) changes my recommendation,” he said.

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