There are a number of issues in Seekonk that are the result of mismanagement by our elected, appointed and department heads. In many cases our leadership is ignorant, or flagrantly ignoring laws set forth by our charter and the state. These errors of omission and commission will result in litigation that will prove unfavorable to Seekonk causing all of us to lose.
We have been trying to point out one such problem that continues to be ignored by our Board of Selectmen (BOS). That is the issue of safety, our fire department and most notably the loss of the entire volunteer fire department (Call Firefighters).
For years our town functioned very well with just a volunteer fire department. Times have changed and there isn’t a doubt that we need a full time fire department, but that department needs to be augmented with a call department, because Seekonk cannot afford to add more full-time fire personnel. This was pointed out in a study of our fire department that cost the town more than $80,000. The study recommended that Seekonk site two strategically located firehouses. The study also suggested that our town augment the full-time fire dept. with a volunteer fire dept. Unfortunately, our Board of Selectmen and Fire Chief have ignored all suggestions by that fire study.
In 2004 our fire department budget was $1,047,000.00 dollars. We also had a combined full-time and volunteer fire force of more than 47 people. Twenty of that force were full-time firefighters. In eight years since 2004 our fire force has been reduced to 28 career firefighters. While the full-time force has grown by 8 people – the call department doesn’t exist anymore. The Board of Selectmen decided it in 2012, not to renew the contract of the call firefighters. This decision was wrong on many levels. It is wrong because it leaves the town inadequately staffed. It’s fiscally irresponsible and puts the people of Seekonk as well as the Firefighters in harms way. Not to mention that such a decision flys in the face of labor laws. During contract negotiations in 2010 the BOS placed goals and objectives in the contract for the current fire chief to achieve. A couple of those goals were to retain a minimum of 20 call firefighters and to provide adequate training for them. Not only did he fail to achieve those goals, but also under his command the call fire department disappeared completely. Yet the current BOS rewarded him with another three-year contract and gave him a $15,000 stipend in addition to his raise. Seekonk’s fire chief position now makes as much as the city of East Providence’s fire chief. The East Providence Fire chief has a staff of more than 115 people, in a city with a population of more than 48,000. Unfortunately, the issue gets worse.
In 2011 the Massachusetts Call Volunteer Firefighters Association was awarded a federal grant under the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant program. Under this grant program administered by the Mass. Call Volunteer Firefighters Association an individual was provided a scholarship of $4,500 with additional incentives that could drive that figure above $5,500 for any students college education as long as they committed to a year served as a call firefighter for every year they accepted this scholarship money. The Mass. Call Volunteer Firefighters Association notified the Fire Chief of this program directly. He chose to do nothing with it. In fact, the Board of Selectmen didn’t even know of the program until the Call Firefighters union made them aware of it. This money would have benefited many of our students who are strapped for college tuition. It also would have provided our Fire Department with young people as a feeder program into the ranks of our fire department. And in November of 2011 the Seekonk Call Firefighters Association was awarded a grant by the Mass. Call Volunteer Firefighters Association in the amount of $500 to assist with recruiting new call firefighters. The Board of Selectmen rejected acceptance of this grant because of what it termed as "strings" attached.
The Rhode Island Association of Fire Chiefs Foundation (RIAFCF) is being awarded $974, 200 in federal funds through Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant program to recruit and train VOLUNTEER firefighters. Seekonk needs to participate in programs like this. We need leadership that looks for ways to augment our budget with available federal and state funds. This is money that is available to Seekonk as well, yet our fire chief ignores it and we reward him with another contract is absurd.
It is wrong that our BOS rewards mediocrity and failure with contract renewals and raises. These are facts not opinions. Simply visit the Massachusetts call/volunteer Firefighters Association website at: www.mcvfa.org and see for yourself of the programs available to help bolster the ranks of call firefighters - an excellent and financially responsible way to augment our fire department and provide valuable scholarship revenue for students and families that need it.
The issue of our call fire department will end up in court because of the errors of the BOS and the Town Administrator. The courts will decide the issue and it will decide on behalf of the call department because the Town Administrator failed to follow the basic tenets of contractual obligations as set by federal and state law as well as our town charter. And unfortunately that will cost the Seekonk taxpayers dearly.
The Fire department issue is one of many that Seekonk will have to deal with. We haven’t even scratched the surface of the problems of the senior center, the Banna Fire Station, the South end fire station, Staffing issues at the town hall and many more.
Seekonk leadership is not solving problems as much as they are creating them; we are creating then ignoring them. And this process must cease. Seekonk is in a mess because its leaders have failed to do their jobs. They have let their personal agendas and opinions guide them rather then follow the law and the guidelines of our charter. This has to end. We need to elect people that are sensitive to the needs of the town, but more importantly – people that follow the law.
David Saad is a member of Seekonk Concerned Citizens.