Town considering adding Deputy Fire Chief position

by beth on January 13, 2020

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This week, the Personnel Board will discuss (and possibly vote on) a proposal by the Fire Chief to add a second in command position.

Last month, Chief Steven Achilles told the board that the position of Deputy Fire Chief is needed as a part succession planning. The lack of a plan was raised over a year ago when the Town sought a new chief to replace retiring-Chief Joe Mauro.

In December 2018, the Screening Committee Chair told selectmen that employees in the Fire Department preferred to find a chief from outside the department. The Chair Jason Malinowski recommended that the next chief should create an employee development plan for succession. 

The minutes and documents show that this isn’t the first time the deputy position was requested by the SFD. Under Chief Mauro, the position was apparently “floated” in 2015 and 2018. The memo from Achilles refers to those requests as “Evaluated, revised, and being re-introduced for FY 21”.

Chief Achilles and Malinowski both attended the December Personnel Board meeting to explain the need and answer questions. According to the draft minutes, Achilles told Personnel that he conducted a needs assessment of the department when he took over last spring. He followed that he sincerely believed the  deputy position is needed.]:

[Achilles] opined that currently, there is no succession plan and it is imperative that the organization be resilient and prepared. In addition, he opined that this position would give the FD another fire officer on the day shifts which acts as a “force multiplier.”

Duties are summarized as:

Under the direction of the Fire Chief, assists in the dally operation of the Fire Department. The Deputy Chief supervises and directs staff; plans and directs emergency response activities; and performs administrative functions.

Serves as second-in-command of department and acts as Fire Chief in the absence of the Chief.

Provides for the proper and efficient operation of the emergency services, health and safety, and training divisions.

Achilles explained that the absence referred to above is when the chief is out of town or on holiday. It is not meant to be a night/weekend shift position, though he would be on call.

Benefits are touted as: 

Provides an overtime exempt, non-union, salaried chief fire officer position.

Establishes designated ranking officer, with powers and duties of Fire Chief as identified In job description and M.G.L Part I, Title VII, Chapter 48, Section 42, in the absence of Fire Chief.

Enhances available emergency response force during peak activity periods and complex incidents.

Improves administrative and ancillary duty supervision ratio from 1 :16 to 1:8.

Establishes and advances department’s leadership succession plan.

Strengthens future organizational continuity and resiliency.

 The draft minutes capture the discussion of financial impacts to taxpayers:

 The Chair asked the Chief if he could quantify the cost to the Town of the position, including post-employment benefits (PEB). . .

[Town Administrator Mark Purple] said he will ask this Board, as he has the BOS and Advisory, to focus on “service levels,” not cost. focus on “service levels,” not cost. He said if the position is approved, he and [Treasurer, Mark Ballantine] will work with the department to fit the budget. He said the cost can be reduced by hiring at midyear in January. The Chair opined that this would only reduce the cost for the first year, not beyond. Mr. Purple concurred, but said this approach can make the new position “more palatable” from a cost perspective.

Malinowski urged the board to study the succession plan even if it doesn’t approve the position for this year.  The Personnel Board indicated they would want to hear the positions of Advisory and Selectmen. They tabled the item to revisit at this Wednesday’s 8:00 am meeting.

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Alfred Hamilton January 13, 2020 at 10:28 AM

The idea that hiring mid year would make the costs “more palatable” is just double talk. This is the old camels nose in the tent strategy which should be beneath the TA and BOS. Next year the cost will be fully adsorbed.

If this is important then it should be justified on the basis of the full year benefits vs the full year costs. The big question is “how will this increase in cost be reflected in improvement in service?” Will the fire trucks get to my house faster? Will our emergency personnel be better trained? How will each citizen benefit from this increased cost? If these questions cannot be clearly answered (and measured) then there is no case for the added costs.

While succession planning is a consideration, we should not be putting ourselves in a position where the next chief always comes from within the organization. There is considerable benefit from bringing in outside talent to take a fresh look at how we are organized and provide service.

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2 Arborist January 13, 2020 at 10:49 AM

I am all for public safety , But does a small town such as southboro really need this new position? and if approved then they will be asking for a $40.000 response vehicle so he or she can get around town. plus add in the cost of uniforms and other necessities for him or her. Taxes are very high now, I don’t think now is the time, considering the new PSB hasn’t taken it’s full affect on our tax bill.

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3 Frank Crowell January 13, 2020 at 11:32 AM

Well, if it’s good for the school system……….

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4 is there too much tax revenue available? January 13, 2020 at 1:18 PM

Don’t we need a Deputy Police Chief too? Maybe we should have Deputy BOS people?

No, No and No!

We already have twenty eight (28) firefighters – almost 2X the size of the Police Dept.

As Susan Powter, of weight-loss infomercial fame, used to say, “Stop the Insanity!”.

PUH-LEEZE!!!

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5 Southboro2020 January 13, 2020 at 1:30 PM

Southboro is becoming a busier town. A lot of people are stuck on the concept of Southboro being the sleepy farm town from 50 years ago. Southboro is becoming more populated with houses, commercial properties, traffic and large 55+ housing complexes. – all adding more call volume for the fire dept. I think it’s great a deputy chief position is added. Adding one position won’t burden me as a tax payer and will help bring the department into modern times.

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6 SB Resident January 14, 2020 at 12:10 PM

If you want to convince the townspeople that more fire dept. resources are needed, you should use facts. Whether we are talking about fires or motor vehicle collisions, the world has only been continually getting safer and safer, I would surmise that in spite of the modest population gains, that call volume has only decreased over time. Also, the department has received significant technological upgrades and one effect of these upgrades is supposed to be increased efficiency of the staffs time.

I personally am happy to fund the department based on need, but I haven’t seen any data showing that any significant change has occurred over time that requires more resources and I would suspect that if we looked at the data, we have already been continually adding resources without any increased need.

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7 Arborist January 13, 2020 at 3:52 PM

To Southboro 2020: The big difference from 50 years ago from today is the town department heads were southboro residents, They were very careful of their budget and how much money was needed to run their department. They keep a lid on spending in order to keep their own and neighbor’s taxes under control . As far as the rest of your post you are correct, The town has grown in the last 50 years.

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8 southsider January 14, 2020 at 10:54 AM

Are there really 28 firefighters as mentioned in the post above? The article seems to indicate there are 16. How many fires do they respond to on any given day or week?
I would certainly agree that one person should not directly manage 28 others, especially over a 7×24 schedule… but must the next level of management be a Deputy Chief?

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9 beth January 14, 2020 at 11:34 AM

The Town website lists the personnel. It shows 29, including the Fire Chief and the Administrative Assistant. The rest are listed as firefighters or supervisors. There is a captain and 4 Lieutenants. Staff are broken into four “Groups” (each with a Lt/Captain and four firefighters) plus a “Call Division”. You can see those details here.

I assume your reference to 16 comes from the listed benefit, “Improves administrative and ancillary duty supervision ratio from 1 :16 to 1:8.” I don’t know if that is a reference to numbers generally on shift at the same time or some other aspect of the reporting structure.

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10 beth January 14, 2020 at 11:37 AM

Also, I can’t answer the number of fires per week or number of calls. I can say that not all of the calls are related to fires. They respond to medical emergencies, car accidents, etc.

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11 Brian R January 14, 2020 at 11:29 PM

The first question you should ask is how many house fires are there in town each year? A couple of years ago, the Chief put out some data that there only 6 “structure.fires” each year. Yes, that # was 6. Why have the number of fires decreased over the years?
Smoke alarms, sprinkler s and better building codes.

The fire department dieschandke lots of ambulance calls including a zillion trips from Southborough Medical to bring someone to Marlborough Hospital. And they use the multi-hundred thousand fire engines to drivevto many of these calls..

Realistically, all of the ambulance calls can and SHOULD be handled by private ambulance service as is done in Marlboro, Wellesley, Hudson, Northborough and many other towns- at ZERO cost to the town. Yep, the ambulance company bills the patient’s insurance directly.

Here’s a great article discussing why fire departments such as ours continue to get bigger as the # of fires has dramatily declined. It includes this statement” There are half as many fires as there were 30 years ago, but about 50 percent more people are paid to fight them.’

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2015/09/04/05316abe-517c-11e5-933e-7d06c647a395_story.html

The last thing we need to spend taxes on is a deputy chief.

The Chief gets paid big bucks to supervise his Captain and 4 Lieutenants. Those ranking officers in turn supervise each shift. Each shift consists of a total of ONLY 3 firefighters and a Lieutenant or a Captain. That’s it.

So how in the world does the Chief need a deputy Chief be and a $60,000 “command vehicle”. ???????

Common sense must be in pretty short supply at the Town House of the “Finance Team” – whoever they are- this ks this is a good use of our taxes.

The firemen in town are really nice people and criticizing more fire department spending us seen by many as unpatriotic or ungrateful.

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12 Al Hamilton January 15, 2020 at 9:00 AM

Well said!

I can think of a dozen better uses of the funds, let alone letting the taxpayers keep it in their pockets.

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13 Dean Dairy January 17, 2020 at 1:09 AM

Let’s set the Way-Back Machine to “who could have seen this one coming”?

Selectmen unanimously select Steven Achilles as new Southborough Fire Chief
MARCH 15, 2019

Achilles had explained that when he was Deputy Chief he supported the department’s decision to use a federal grant to purchase a 33 foot fire boat. As he told selectmen, “nothing is free”. Maintenance and related stipends for staff was costly. A couple of years after he became chief, he realized they needed to get rid of the boat. Too much was being spent outside of their core mission at the expense of staffing.

He said that the PFD purchased the boat without first creating a mission statement. He told the board that among the lessons he learned was avoiding that position in the first place.

http://www.mysouthborough.com/2019/03/15/selectmen-unanimously-select-steven-achilles-as-new-southborough-fire-chief/

Dean Dairy March 17, 2019
Unfortunately, it appears the BOS didn’t ask the prospective chief candidates how they could accomplish what we need for less. From a $353,000 boat to the new public services complex being built in town, the question is whether the taxpayers today are being taken for a jaunt…

2BoSox49 March 19, 2019
Dean- why all the anti- fire department negativity ? The new chief hasn’t even started yet and your throwing out taxpayer expense scare tactics.

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14 southsider January 14, 2020 at 11:47 AM

Thanks for the info, beth. I doubt there are 16 firefighters on shift at one time but maybe….
And it’s interesting to note that an org structure that includes a captain and 4 lieutenants is not sufficient to provide some amount of acceptable Succession Planning options.

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15 Frank Crowell January 14, 2020 at 12:44 PM

I wonder if the ladder truck has lived up to all the reasons we needed it………. or was it a want?

Didn’t we also need a rescue boat back in the 2000’s. Where is that boat now?

Do we need a new committee in town that reports to TM only and determines needs vs. wants for all departments in town? Probably a full time job with the school system alone. Or maybe more elected officials who understand that although we live in Massachusetts we to not have to operate like the state of Massachusetts.

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16 beth January 14, 2020 at 1:23 PM

The committee you describe is the Advisory Committee – at least conceptually. They are appointed by the Moderator to report to Town Meeting. Their meetings are open to the public. They meet tonight at 7pm (at the Public Safety Building) and have public comment opportunities on their agenda.

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17 Betsy Rosenbloom January 15, 2020 at 5:47 PM

Hi Beth. I wanted to let your readers know that I was informed yesterday (I am currently Chair of the Personnel Board) that Chief Achilles is not moving forward with his request for creation of a new Deputy Chief position for FY21. Thanks again for all you do to keep the citizenry informed of what’s going on in town. Much appreciated!

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18 beth January 16, 2020 at 8:32 AM

Thank you for the update!

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19 resident January 16, 2020 at 8:39 AM

Finally a good decision made in this town! Good job Chief Achilles.

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20 Frank Crowell January 16, 2020 at 11:59 AM

Resident – I agree but there have been two good decisions of late. Keith Lavoie promotion to Northborough/Southborough School operations is a good choice and one that will pay dividends.

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21 resident January 17, 2020 at 10:13 AM

Frank, I respectfully disagree. Adding Keith Lavoie was a move made by splitting the Finance and Operation Position to which we pay over $130K per year. It used to be held by one person. Now we add Keith (nothing against him, I think he is great!) and split that job and we are paying $260K for the same job. If the person they put in that job can’t handle the job, then we should have looked at other options. On top of all this, several members of the staff in the Superintendent;s office were given a large increase. Other town workers are getting a flat 2%. Of course they will tell you it is due to a reorganization, but it still is more money going out the door. This effects all our tax dollars. Blatant waste is common in that office and the School Committees just let it happen. They are not paying attention to any of the spending there, if they show up to the meetings! If Keith had been smart, he would have left the district when he was overlooked for Assistant Superintendent. He is too good at what he does for him to be overlooked. I wish him well, but at the same time have a hard time spending the additional money when it is not necessary.

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22 Frank Crowell January 17, 2020 at 2:33 PM

Well look at that – more information in one post than going to multiple school committee meetings. Thanks resident!

23 4is there too much tax revenue available? January 18, 2020 at 11:57 AM

It has long perplexed me why ARHS has three (3) – yes, *three* assistant principals. One principal makes sense. One assistant might be defensible, if the work load demands it.

Three? Is this all part of some full employment plan?

Come on!!!

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24 southsider January 21, 2020 at 8:34 AM

Just checked a couple of web site:
Shrewsbury (a little bigger than ARHS ) has 4 assistant principals.
Westboro ( a little smaller than ARHS ) has 2 assistant principals.

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25 Frank Crowell January 21, 2020 at 4:09 PM

How are those per student costs in Shrewsbury looking these days? Still lower than Southborough……….. I’m shocked.

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26 resident January 22, 2020 at 9:30 AM

If you follow job postings, you will see more postings for the Superintendent’s Office. They seem to be expanding at an enormous rate. Where is that money coming from. If you look at the budget projections from the BOS meeting that Brian Ballantine put out, they schools are looking for over a 4% increase. Now is the time to say no. Enough of the overspending in the schools. We need to hold the School Committee responsible for what they were elected to do.

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