Sunday Notes August 30th 2015

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The above statement taken from the City of Lowell sponsored 1990 review of the Lowell Fire credence to my concern and criticisms on the way this (and the last and many earlier) Administration and City Councils understand, fund and value the work of firefighters.

Because of the Merrimack and Concord rivers along with the bridges and history of the old mill city, Lowell faces particular unique, hazards in responding to emergency situations than most city’s and towns, a fact given to the city in 1990 and ignored. For whatever reason, instead of finding ways to ensure adequate coverage in the neighborhoods, this and earlier administrations and council’s seem to disrespect the Lowell Firefighters and in my opinion they are being treated like 2nd class first responders and the citizens / homeowners are being put in danger.

My question is why does the present council allow it and why doesn’t a challenger take up the cause? Are they afraid of the politics? The Sun, who seem to clearly have an issue with the firefighters or are the challengers just not up to the challenge?

Will it take another Branch St, Bridge St. or Mill fire, a loss of life or property before the staffing and equipment challenges facing the fire finally addressed?

What has Lowell done with the Fire Dept. since 1990?

Back in 1990 (25 years ago) the City of Lowell did a comprehensive review of the Lowell Fire Dept. which I was fortunate enough through the kindness of a reader, to get a copy of and have posted it below.

Many new issues have come up since 1990. Protective gear is different, EMS was added. Most stations are in no way modern or adequate. Some need major overhauls, but only get band aids. It took over a year after approval to even get the roof fixed on the West Sixth St. station. The list goes on and on.

The issue of bridges still is out there. There are only so many crossing points and a lot more traffic these days. Also many Fire trucks can not cross many of the Enel owned bridges in their current condition, most notable Broadway and Pawtucket Streets.

This Council voted to spend $500,000 on. shot spotter to detect a gun shot but will close a fire company and risk a structure fire or overdose. What sense does that make?

Looking through this 1990 report and before the City Council okay’s spending any money to do another exact report, will a Councilor PLEASE make a motion and ask the manager for a detailed account of how many of the recommendations from the 1990 report were in fact implemented?

The taxpayer’s need to know and hear from the Administration exactly how many trucks have been replaced with new ones since 1990? Have we kept any reserve engines and do we have a program, policy or guidelines in place for rebuilding of apparatus? Did we take into account the comments about the unique and particular hazards of Lowell. Where the suggestions on reducing Injury Off Days and reducing the use of sick days enacted?

I have found what I believe are some of the answers or partial answers to how the city responded to the last review. The public has the need and right to hear from their elected and appointed officials on exactly what the city did in response to that review before we repeat the exercise.

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I’ve found that the city has not purchased a new piece of fire apparatus in five years. The apparatus purchases in the early to mid 90’s were all or mostly done with CDBG grant funds from what I can find. The city funded at least five through that program, but I am told it is no longer an option.

Some other federal grants have helped with turn out gear and SCBA. Also when they cut the number of personnel and stations and overtime in the early nineties it appears it freed up some funding to do the other items.

The review also called for a plan to refurbish apparatus. I can’t find anything that showed the city did this. Some very basic overhauls were done from what I am told but nothing major. There are departments in nearby communities that do this. Lowell seems to operate the fire equipment until it runs into the ground.

Lowell currently does not have two reserve engines, the city has one and one spare ladder. The spares are all over twenty years old.

The rescue does not operate as a haz-mat company, though the city seems to have a smaller special operations vehicle with some containment materials on it. Firefighters seem to have a high level of training and the ability to do some initial response, however high level haz-mat response is a state function. Lowell does have members on the state team. There are always a good number of technicians on duty in the city every shift, but I’ guessing it is very expensive to purchase the required equipment the study recommended.

The Lowell Fire Dept. does not have a combined air and light unit. The ladders and Rescue have the capability of supplying portable lighting in small size incidents. The air refill unit is a regional resource located in Tyngsboro Fire that can and ha been called on for mutual aid numerous times at large fires and they are quick to respond. Because of the two rivers and many canals Lowell does have a dive team available and it is deployed often.

The report clearly states:Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 10.13.35 AM

Yet we know Lowell Ignored that, in 1990 Lowell had 235 members of the Fire Dept. According to the recent RFQ Lowell presently currently has 208 full time positions, including: 1 Fire Chief, 9 Deputy Fire Chiefs, 14 Fire Captains, 43 Fire Lieutenants, 134 Firefighters,1 business manager, 1 mechanic and 1 administrative assistant, 1ME repairman, 1 IT assistant and 1 head clerk.

There are eight (8) fire stations in the entire city. Two on this side of the river, West 6th St. and Old a Ferry Road. One (1) in the Highlands Pine / Stevens St. One in Cambodia Town Branch St – Two in the South Lowell area Gorham St and Lawrence St. and one covering all of Belvidere on High St. The Central Station covers the Downtown / Historic District.

We have 8 Engines, 4 ladders and 1 rescue.

All ladder trucks have sets of jaws for vehicle accidents on them, however it is a mixed bag. Lowell has two heavy duty sets and two light duty sets. Technology has made extrication equipment a lot better in the last ten years but it appears Lowell is behind again.

Nashua, Brockton, Newton and Quincy all spend millions more than Lowell on their fire departments while running fewer companies.

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With all the talk about Sick leave and injuries and staffing, have those recommendations ever been put into place?

The report suggest that IF these suggestions were indeed followed , the Chief could than over a period of 2-3 years set a goal of reducing (IOD) Injury off days by 300 tours (shifts) and be able to add 2 additional personal to the work schedule. He could also set a goal of reducing sick day usage and reduce that by 2 days per person per year then an additional of close to 400 hours could be filled (or approx. the addition of 2 people )

Has far as I can tell, the City does not have a health and safety program of any significance or a full time safety officer.

Before we spend any more money to review the Lowell Fire Department, let’s review the last review and see how many of these recommendations were reviewed and put into place.

LFD Study 1990 Part 1

LFD Study 1990 Part 2

Re-active to INACTIVE

You can’t give a passionate, harsh speech about crime unless you’re going to do something about it on Wednesday morning. Criminals work 24/7. – Former Mayor Bud Caulfield addressing Lowell City Council Meeting: September 23, 2014

At that same meeting, in the same speech the former Mayor also stated this: In closing I request Mr Mayor you reinstitute the substance abuse subcommittee. Back in 1988 Mayor Howe appointed me to chair that committee and we did a lot of good work. It was bad in 1988 but it’s worse now.

Mayor Elliott did that,he reformed that committee and appointed Corey Belanger as Chairman. Since this Council has been in office (January of 2014) and that committee restarted in October of 2014 , there have been 3 Substance Abuse Subcommittee meetings .
(I was able to find this and all the Sub-Committee numbers on the City Website)

Dec 2 2014. – April 16 2025. – May 5 2015

Compare that to Eight (8) Public Safety – SIX (6) Transportation – FIVE (5) Parks and Rec or FIVE (5) Neighborhood Sub – Committee meetings in the same span.

In a City with 114 Od’s in July, a city that ranks sixth-worst in the state for opiate deaths, why would th City Council this past Tuesday night refer to the council’s substance-abuse subcommittee anything? Especially a recent opiate overdose report that ranks Lowell 6th?

The Council should have sent it to Public Safety, at least they meet regularly and work on issues. What is Chairman Corey Belanger doing? If any committee should be meeting often it’s the substance abuse one.

It seems to me that back in the late 80’s when Dick Howe was Mayor and Bud Caulfield assigned as chair of that committee they were much more active, met often and did city wide outreach and meetings in the neighborhood. Doc Conway hosted at least one at St. Pat’s in the Acre and the East End one in Centralville that I recall. Bud knew you had to go to the neighborhoods to find what was going on and what the city could do to help.

Of course Corey Belanger is Not now nor ever will be a City Councilor like Bud Caulfield!

However he should be aware enough of this issue which is effecting so many individuals and families regardless of their race, creed, financial or political position that this subcommittee should be at least meeting monthly and working with the police and health departments and subcommittees like public safety, the State delegation, Trinity, Pridestar,Lowell General and non-profit partners along with the surrounding communities to try and collaboratly address this issue.

If not now, when?

History repeating? Fail in 1975….ignore in 2015!

Council Belanger can take solace in the fact that at least his 3 meetings are better than the 1 meeting that the ​Downtown Redevelopment a Sub – Committee w/ ​Councilor Kennedy has Chair have had. They have met once (1) in October of 2014.

Guess he figured this ad didn’t work in 1975 and since he hasn’t been able to do much redevelopment since, why bother having more than 1 meeting ?
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Labor Pains Ahead
City Manager Kevin Murphy like the rest of us may be looking forward to the Labor Day weekend (notice at the Council meeting he’s the guy with the best tan) but he can’t be looking forward to the fall and growing Labor issues he will be facing. Local 1705’s contract has expired and they still have an open grievance that could cost the city. The firefighters. contract is expired and the UTL contract is also expired.

None seem likely to be settled easily and most look to be drawn out and have potential to create some tension in the city that has been pretty tension free.

One question that may be asked and hasn’t been addressed by the Mayor or current Council is How/Why is the City Managers salary increased in this years budget by $10,000 when there hasn’t been an evaluation done on the Manager?