In-depth study planned for Bridgton Fire Department

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Bridgton Selectmen are considering hiring an expert consultant to study the current status of all aspects of the Bridgton Fire Department, from top to bottom.

Requests for proposals were due April 30 for the development of a Fire Department Review and Strategies Report, and selectmen have met twice in executive session to discuss the study, as well as a second proposal to require annual fitness testing of firefighters. Nothing has been decided or discussed yet in open session.

Both proposals were listed on the board’s April 22 agenda for discussion, but Chairman Doug Taft asked for an executive session, saying that personnel issues were involved.

The board is expected to award the bid for the review and strategies report in early May, according to the RFP. The RFP states that the report will provide “specific strategies and recommendations that would guide the selectboard and the fire chief in assuring that the fire protection and suppression services continue to meet the growing needs of the community.”

Bridgton Fire Chief Glen Garland said the need for an in-depth study became evident during budget talks this spring, when Budget Committee members questioned the need for some equipment requests as well as the wisdom of adding more space to the West Bridgton Station.

“From that, we said that maybe we should have a study done to see what we should have, and what stations are needed, and what equipment is needed at each,” Garland said. He said he met with Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz early on to discuss how in-depth the study needed to be. Garland said he hasn’t been involved with the executive sessions, saying, “I don’t know how far they’ve gone with this.”

The RFP requires that fire department industry standards be used to evaluate the existing Incident Command Structure, which was restructured last summer by eliminating the position of assistant fire chief. The 50-member department currently musters an average of eight members per fire call, and selectmen want to know how efficient the current call system of firefighting is in relation to the number, types and timing of fire calls. They also want to know whether there are other demands being placed on the department that may impact its effectiveness.

The study will review the fire exposures in the town now, “and what might be expected for the future based upon growth trends.” The study will also evaluate the efficiency of the department’s deployment strategies, organizational policies, practices, mutual aid agreements and training regime, and how these might change in the future.

Garland said he expects the study will also address the question of whether it’s time for Bridgton to have a paid, professional fire department. “That would have to be part of the discussion,” he said.

In 2005–2006, Garland said the town did a “very limited study” on equipment needs that led to the purchase of the town’s ladder truck. “It wasn’t a broad-based study of the entire department. It was similar to what they did with the police department,” he said.

The second proposal, for fitness testing of firefighters and possibly an eventual wellness program, calls for RFPs to be submitted to the town by the middle of May, with a contract award by June 10, In a memo to selectmen, Berkowitz said the idea for a fitness program also arose during fire department budget talks. The focus was on finding ways to reduce the costs from injury claims by firefighters who are injured on a fire call.

“The intent is to assist our firefighters to maintain their readiness in a manner that also requires them to look at their own medical data and circumstances, and be prepared to make lifestyle changes that contribute to their quality of life,” the RFP outline states.

The 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. time period constitutes about 68% of annual calls, the RFP states, and “ a deeper look gives us some insight as to the higher level of stress that most call departments are facing.” During that daytime period, only about five members arrive initially to “start their work with the hope that others will eventually respond, including mutual aid. This added stressor contributes to the increased exposures to accident and injury,” the RFP states.

The program would be implemented by requiring fitness testing of a third of the department’s members every three years. The specific results of the testing would be kept confidential under a simple pass/fail system. If the member fails the test, “then they are provided the opportunity to be on a leave status until their physician releases them to return to work,” the proposal states.

Several legal questions arise from the proposal that still need to be addressed by the town attorney or the Maine Municipal Association, the RFP states.

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