TRURO — The fire and rescue dept. has weathered what town officials called a “severe staffing shortage” last month when, according to an Oct. 12 press release, the department was down to three full-time firefighters because of a cluster of resignations. Fire and rescue is currently budgeted at nine full-time staff.
The select board responded by negotiating pay increases averaging more than 11 percent with the local firefighters union, bringing the Truro department’s salaries more in line with other nearby towns. With a new contract in place, the department was able to fill several positions and is now back up to a roster of eight, just one short of what’s called for in the town budget.
“We weren’t competitive before,” said Town Manager Darrin Tangeman, “but now we are.”
Nevertheless, Tangeman and Fire Chief Tim Collins are worried about what happens in the next staffing crunch if the town is unable to call on the Lower Cape Ambulance Association (LCAA) for backup support.
LCAA provides transport of patients to Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis for Truro and Provincetown, which share the cost of the service. But Provincetown Fire Chief Michael Trovato believes that his department should withdraw from LCAA and have its own self-sufficient ambulance service.
If Provincetown withdraws, “the burden of the cost of working with LCAA would shift solely to Truro,” Tangeman said. “And we wouldn’t be able to afford that.”
Anticipating the possible collapse of LCAA, Chief Collins asked to hire four new firefighter-paramedics at the June 2020 annual town election. This would have increased the overall roster from 9 to 13 and allowed the department to deploy three personnel per shift instead of two. But voters turned down the request.
The same increase was on the table for the Sept. 26, 2020 town meeting, but it was deferred. Now Tangeman and Collins are raising the issue again.
“It is likely that a similar article could be presented to town meeting voters at the April 2022 Annual Town Meeting for consideration, especially in light of the recent staffing situation,” the Oct. 12 press release stated.
“Ideally, we should go from two people on the floor to four,” Collins said. That would reduce the need for mutual aid from neighboring departments when Truro firefighters are held up on calls; in effect, more Truro staff could free up resources regionally.
“Otherwise, if we’re out, Wellfleet is covering us, which may pull Eastham into Wellfleet,” he said. “Then, Orleans into Eastham. Then Brewster into Orleans — and so on.”
Tangeman said he thinks the town should be braced for possible future resignations. “If you have four firefighters dropping, you need to have enough buffer to mitigate that shift in the workforce,” he said. “Right now, we’re really bare bones.”
The situation came to a head in a two-week period in September, when four Truro firefighters resigned, giving two weeks notice. Two left for fire dept. jobs in Wellfleet; two got jobs in Hyannis. The department managed with per-diem staff, overtime, and help from LCAA. One of the four staff members who resigned later returned.
The firefighter compensation increases shake out as follows, according to figures obtained by the Independent from the town: The starting hourly wage for a firefighter-EMT is now $26.07, up 5.08 percent. The firefighter-EMT lieutenant’s starting pay is now $32.18 per hour, up 23.53 percent. Firefighter-paramedics received an increase in starting pay of only 0.21 percent, to $27.98. The paramedic lieutenant’s starting pay is now $33.56, up 14.50 percent.
Tangeman cautioned that these higher wages do not yet reflect a “100-percent match” with the pay scales of neighboring towns. The town is awaiting a formal compensation analysis of the job market before finalizing the adjustments to compensation, he said.
Provincetown, Truro, and Wellfleet are gearing up for a joint emergency services analysis, said Tangeman and Collins. Collins is opposed to the idea of abandoning LCAA.
“In an ideal world,” he said, “Lower Cape would still be here — and we’d have additional firefighters. LCAA is a vital asset to the community.”