Amherst F.D. cites lack of manpower amid rise in emergency calls

AMHERST, Mass. (WWLP) – It’s a job where minutes matter, and the Amherst Fire Department says they’re stretched too thin. Sometimes they don’t have any firefighters at the station because they’re all on ambulance calls.

The Amherst Fire Department has 42 firefighters and 11 fire trucks. Many of those 42 firefighters are also certified Paramedics and EMTs. Amherst operates five ambulances and they serve as the primary ambulance service for five towns, including Amherst, Pelham, Shutesbury, Hadley and Leverett. They serve about 80,000 residents and cover 125 square miles.

Amherst Fire Chief Tim Nelson told 22News the number of calls has increased nearly 30% from 2004 to 2014. “That means that the same amount of folks are doing more and more work each year. In the end we have to address this because it’s about people. It’s about taking care of people,” said Nelson.

Union President Joe Lagasse says fatigue is setting in. “There’s ample amount of overtime, more overtime than everybody is willing and able to physically work. We can’t fill all the shifts. People are just tired.”

Interim Town Manager David Ziomek told 22News five positions were added to the department in 2005, one in 2013 and extra funding from UMass has helped on weekends.

“Those increased staffing levels on Thursday, Friday and Saturday for peak weekends when the university is in session have been very effective in helping us address some of those call volumes.”

The Fire Department says weekends are not the problem. They sometimes have trouble meeting minimum staffing during the week. The town says they’ll take a look at staffing for this year’s budget, which will come out on January 14th.

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