Virus Update: Briefs from Fire, Police & DPW

by beth on March 27, 2020

Post image for Virus Update: Briefs from Fire, Police & DPW

Above: Firefighters sleep in separate quarters thanks to the Town’s investment in a new public safety building. (image cropped from SAM video of the building tour)

On Tuesday night, selectmen were updated by chiefs of the Fire Department, Police Department and Public Works on how they are handling the state of emergency.

As of that meeting, Fire and Police were still able to staff their usual shifts. For the SFD, that’s around the clock with firefighters living in the new Public Safety Building.

Here are the highlights from the briefings. (Remember, except for where otherwise noted, it is all as of the evening of March 24th.)

Fire Department Update

Fire Chief Steven Achilles noted that social distancing is a challenge for teams working together and sharing an ambulance/fire truck.

As of Tuesday night, 3 members of the crew were self-quarantined based on circumstances around one of the infected patients. The SFD has on call staff lined up if they become needed. And Chief Achilles noted that both he and a Lt. are paramedics. They can step into the roll if necessary.

Both chiefs also said that Southborough and surrounding towns were all prepared to help each other. The towns all share their workforce status in an online system to ensure there are enough regional responders in case of a disaster.

Despite the increase sanitary restrictions, so far they hadn’t seen a decline in their response times.

Achilles said that if staffing levels for shifts need to be reduced they will notify the BOS and Town Manager. Their goal is to avoid that.

To that end, Achilles talked about the sanitary measures the crew was taking. That includes decontaminating rooms at the start and end of shifts. The chiefs and selectmen noted appreciation for the station which has separate sleeping quarters for firefighters. In the old station, there were six bunks to a room.

The SFD had a cache of medical supplies through Southborough Emergency Management (SEMA). But they are concerned about running low. A request for more supplies had been submitted and they were waiting to hear back on whether they would make the list.

[A Facebook post by the SPD this morning shares that thanks to a generous donor, public safety personnel have more hand sanitizer in stock.]*

SEMA hasn’t opened an Emergency Operations Center so far, since the nature of the emergency isn’t geographic and they avoid wanting to bring people into the building.

Both Fire and Police have been dealing with many and frequently changing guidelines.

Police Department Update

Police Chief Kenneth Paulhus said that his officers were bombarded with special orders, policies, updates on policies, directives from the court, the bail, and public health. He said they take the situation seriously and have been taking the changes in stride. 

Changes have impacted arrest procedures. Officers are required to ask a series of questions before bringing in prisoners into the building. If there’s a perceived issue, they defer to current guidance. Once in, bail hearings and arraignments are held virtually via ipad. They try to keep the time they are in the building as short as possible. Unless a charge is for something very serious everybody is getting relief with another court date to appear.

Paulhus said that while crime continues, they hadn’t seen an uptick in issues related to domestic disturbances or mental health. The Boros’ shared mental health clinician had to go out of service for about two weeks. But they have another one on call. The revised plan was to only call her in when needed.

After the playground  and fields ban, officers put up police tape around playgrounds and asked for more signage. They planned to secure field nets to make the areas less attractive for playing games. 

Public Works Update

Public Works Superintendent Karen Galligan said staff helped secure playgrounds and fields. They also put up a notification sign at the Transfer Station. The station remains open during regular hours, though the swap shop is closed.

DPW staff are using multiple lunch rooms to avoid staff eating in close proximity. But they were facing some challenges like being short on sanitizing supplies. She said that she understood public safety was the priority.

TA Mark Purple explained that every day facilities had been telling him about a backlog for supplies. It’s sometimes 3-4 days between a request in receiving. Public Safety has been first priority.

The Main Street Reconstruction Project is still scheduled to begin at the end of April. She noted that construction work lends itself to social distancing. But she followed that the situation with MassDOT was fluid.

Selectmen Sam Stivers and Dan Kolenda wondered if the project could be moved up to start sooner, since there aren’t many cars on the roads right now. Galligan explained that the contractor lays of a lot of staff in the winter months. They won’t have a crew available until the end of the month. Shea reminded that the construction project requires a police detail. He said the project would be another strain on public safety.

DPW and Southborough Rotary are in talks about the annual roadside cleanup for Earth Day. They hope to work out a way to make that happen since it also lends itself to social distancing.

*The SPD Facebook post this morning updated:

Donated hand sanitizer by M.S. Walker WinesA big “THANK YOU” to M.S. Walker Wines and Spirits, for creating and dropping off this Hand Sanitizer for members of our Department!

M.S. Walker Wines & Spirit has donated over 40,000 bottles of sanitizers to local First Responders, healthcare workers, and other community organizations- in an effort to keep us safe during the Coronavirus Pandemic.

We truly appreciate their generosity, and are very happy to have this additional tool for keeping members of our department safe and healthy.

We’re here doing our part, and we hope that you are too. Stay Home & Stay Healthy, everyone! We will get through this, together.

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 no soap radio March 28, 2020 at 10:43 AM

Hand sanitizer, hand sanitizer, hand sanitizer!!! That’s all we hear – over and over and over.

SOAP works best! It’s readily available and has a co$t significantly less than alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Take a moment to think back a few years, perhaps to the 1990s.
What did we ever do without hand sanitizer? It didn’t exist!

Oh yeah, we used to WASH OUR HANDS.

Still not believing?

A NY Times article stated, “On the whole, hand sanitizers are not as reliable as soap.”.

Of course this will now probably trigger a rush of panic buying bar and liquid hand soap.

SOAP!!!

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2 beth March 28, 2020 at 10:57 AM

I believe the issue is that there are often situations where you don’t have access to a sink to wash your hands. For the DPW, for instance, lot of their workers spend most of their time outdoors and in vehicles where they don’t have abilty to frequently wash their hands.

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3 resident March 31, 2020 at 1:34 PM

These are all good points. The virus has a so-called lipid envelope, meaning its “skin” is fatty, and that “skin” is destroyed by the chemistry of soap. Bacteria I believe don’t have a lipid envelop, they have another type of “skin” made of something else. So the soap isn’t just washing it virus away, it’s killing it on contact. Okay maybe this is TMI, but I thought it was worth knowing

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4 Dean Dairy March 28, 2020 at 12:37 PM

Firefighters sleep in separate quarters thanks to the Town’s investment in a new public safety building.

Explain to me why it makes sense to pay people to sleep?

Does it really have something to do with their work for the town, or to facilitate a sleep schedule that allows them to work secondary outside jobs on extended days off?

How many in the Fire Dept have jobs or trades outside of Southborough Fire Dept?

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5 beth March 28, 2020 at 12:57 PM

I probably should have said rest rather than sleep. But I don’t want to update the post with another potential inaccuracy. So, instead I’ve reached out to the chief for an explanation for how the shifts work and individual rooms are used. (And I’m guessing that “rest” still would lead to you asking , why are we paying people to rest?)

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6 beth March 29, 2020 at 7:30 AM

I reached out to chief Achilles because I wanted to make sure I didn’t misrepresent anything, or answer in accurately. Here is his response:

Our full time members work 24 hour shifts; 8:00 am through 8:00 am. All full-time fire departments that provide around the clock emergency response provide dormitories with sleeping quarters. Our personnel can use these rooms between the hours of 9:00 pm and 7:00 am.

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7 Dean Dairy March 29, 2020 at 1:43 PM

My question asked for an understanding of “why does it make sense?”, not the state of existing practices. What exactly is driving that decision-making? Why is it in the public interest?

I did find this piece (linked below) debating the merits of 24- vs 12-hour shifts. In view of the small size of the SFD, there does seem to be limited potential benefit from use of 12-hour shifts for Southborough. Yet the effect of outside work engaged in by full-time firefighters enabled by that schedule is a legitimate issue, particularly given that a wide range of common health ailments are automatically imputed to one’s service as a firefighter.

But a review and explanation of these factors should never be off-limits, if nothing else to balance the impression that might be left in the reader’s mind by town-minded blog post headlined with a picture of a bed. Other replies treating the questions as mere effrontery or insisting an to end that conversation before it begins won’t exactly allay those impressions, even if they do cow people into silence.

https://www.firehouse.com/careers-education/article/12156027/work-schedules-24-vs-12

So, back to the original question, what is the most efficient work schedule for the fire service? It is evident that there is no one schedule that works best. It is actually a combination of both the 24-hour shift and the 12-hour shift. The 24-hour shift provides you with employees who typically work between 46 and 50 hours per week with minimal shift exchanges while providing continuous coverage throughout the year. The 12-hour shift also provides these benefits; however, in addition, it provides you with the ability to schedule additional employees that are only necessary during your peak call times.

One model would be to schedule the majority of your personnel, approximately 75 percent, on a 24-hour shift and the remaining 25 percent on a 12-hour shift.

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8 Former Resident March 28, 2020 at 4:41 PM

If my family member or myself were a firefighter and they had an opportunity to rest/sleep during downtime I would want that for them so they would be as physically and mentally rested when they were needed. Enough said.

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9 Fire Marshal Dan March 29, 2020 at 12:32 AM

Do you even know how fire stations work? Why should Beth even have to reply to this?

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10 beth March 29, 2020 at 7:56 AM

On a separate, but related, note, I want to express my appreciation to our emergency responders and all of the healthcare workers who live or work in our community. I hope all of you and your families are and remain healthy. That also extends to other essential workers that keep our community running.

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11 John Kendall March 30, 2020 at 5:49 PM

I don’t know who Dean Dairy is, but he’s so off the mark, it isn’t funny. First, the firefighters work 24 hour shifts because it keeps them at the station readily available. Second, and you can take my word for it, they don’t actually sleep much. They try to rest. Third, the 24 hour shift has become the national standard, as well as the state standard. Fourth, why are you after the fire department? If they haven’t been to your house, you should be thankful.

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12 Dean Dairy March 31, 2020 at 5:28 PM

John, I presume whatever shift schedule is in place it would, as you say, “keep them [firefighters] at the station readily available,” wouldn’t it? Unless you contend fire fighters would somehow need to leave the station if they worked a shorter shift, your point is tautological.

Again, my original question asked for an explanation of 24-hr schedule, the influence of outside work rules and why it is in the public interest. The issue seemed glaringly obvious viewing the private sleeping quarters pictured atop the post — much different than the “40-winks” bunk room I remember visiting as a kid.

A retort, this is how it’s done, doesn’t explain the reason. As a layman, I endeavored to elucidate an answer by linking to an article that I thought fairly presented different sides of the debate.

Moreover, after looking at those factors, I opined “[i]n view of the small size of the SFD, there does seem to be limited potential benefit from use of 12-hour shifts for Southborough.”

I have no dog in this race other than a improved understanding of what serves the public interest best. Do I think union as well as agency prerogatives encroach unreasonably: yes, often I think they do. Chief Achilles himself alluded these influences while interviewing for the job. Months later he proposed adding a Deputy Chief, which he argued was necessary, yet the proposal was rejected by town and many people responding on this blog.

One reason I steel myself to raise these questions about how the government operates is precisely because so routinely the answer is “that’s how it’s done” and it’s treated as somehow out-of-bounds even to ask why.

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13 Alan March 31, 2020 at 10:19 PM

Federal law states firefighters can work up to 53 hours without overtime pay. Therefore the two 24 hour shifts. It also minimizes shift changes so they don’t happen in the middle of a call. Now if you just looked it up like I did we would t be having this debate.

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14 Interested April 1, 2020 at 10:14 AM

The modern standardized answer, “just look it up.” Another words, don’t ask your fellow human being anything at all. Ask your computer.
In my day, we were encouraged to ask questions. The saying use to be, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question.” I don’t always agree with Mr. Dairy’s point of view but I do understand his frustration at not getting direct answers to honest questions. Is the ability to answer questions becoming a lost skill?

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15 beth April 1, 2020 at 11:28 AM

I understand your point about “look it up”. I don’t agree that Mr. Dairy has a right to be frustrated that he hasn’t gotten answers.

The Fire Chief’s contact information is public. He could ask himself.

Sometimes it seems that readers are angered when officials don’t respond to blog comments. And yet, how many readers would complain about inefficient use of taxpayer money if employees spent their time reading blog comments to see if there was anything directed to their departments?

If his question was posed when the building was being designed and constructed or in preparation to vote on budgets at Town Meeting, I might have passed the question on myself. (Town Meeting has been postponed and we all know it will be postponed again, we just don’t know until when.)

As I noted in my comment, I asked for clarity on how the shifts work and rooms are used to make sure my post was accurate. Beyond that, it’s up to Mr. Dairy to follow up for more clarity if he wants it.

16 Interested April 1, 2020 at 12:13 PM

Beth, you do an amazing job. Alan’s “now if you just looked it up like I did” comment got me thinking about how that has become a standard reply to inquiring minds. My comment wasn’t meant towards any one topic or person, just an observation on modern day communication.

17 Dean Diary April 1, 2020 at 5:48 PM

Alan, I believe I did “look it up”. Both the federal 53-hour per week OT exemption and the effect more frequent shift changes are mentioned in the article I linked above on Sunday.

The 53-hour per week exemption itself is not a dispositive argument for the two 24-hour shift schedule. For example, you can have four 12-hour shifts per week and still benefit from the same OT exemption.

An except from the article:

To some degree, the 12-hour shift provides the organization with the same benefits of the 24-hour shift, which includes having employees who work in excess of a 40-hour work week and employees that provide continuous coverage for weekends and holidays. The 12-hour shift described above equates to a 42.46-hour work week…

So, back to the original question, what is the most efficient work schedule for the fire service? It is evident that there is no one schedule that works best. It is actually a combination of both the 24-hour shift and the 12-hour shift. The 24-hour shift provides you with employees who typically work between 46 and 50 hours per week with minimal shift exchanges while providing continuous coverage throughout the year. The 12-hour shift also provides these benefits; however, in addition, it provides you with the ability to schedule additional employees that are only necessary during your peak call times.

There’s a good back and forth in the comments, as well.

As I already stipulated, I’m a layman. The benefits of a 12-hour or mixed 12/24-hour shifts are likely limited by the small size of the SFD.

That said, a mere 5% savings (cited in the article) applied to the 20 full-time firefighter SFD would go a long way to paying for the additional Deputy Chief position that Chief Achilles proposed as needed, but was withdrawn after negative reaction on the basis of cost. If that Deputy Chief position could be funded largely out of the existing budget I doubt there would be major opposition. That would be a win-win for the town and the public interest.

Please consider for a moment that those who reflexively paint me as anti-SFD or anti-firefighter for inquiring into the most efficient way of providing the town service simply because it might threaten a sacred cow of either labor or management may be the ones actually compromising the mission.

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18 ARBORIST April 1, 2020 at 11:54 AM

Mr. Dairy: Be happy that the firemen are there (in bed or not) The way convd 19 is spreading across the us they might not be there if they all catch it. so CHILL OUT!!

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19 beth April 1, 2020 at 12:23 PM

No slight was taken. Thank you.

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