Amherst Fire Dept. tackling high call volume, low staff levels - Western Mass News - WGGB/WSHM

Amherst Fire Dept. tackling high call volume, low staff levels

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Amherst Fire Department officials say they're concerned for the public's safety, as they're responding to a much higher call volume but with fewer firefighters.

Secretary for the Amherst Firefighters Local 1764, Tom Valle, says they often send engines to calls with just one or two people on board - the national minimum standard is four.

The first engine to arrive at a house fire last week in Amherst had just two firefighters inside.

Valle says it's not illegal, but it's dangerous.

"We're having to cut corners, dangerous corners and it's a concern and it's getting more dangerous with time," he said. 

Too often, he says, they rely on volunteers.

"The burden is falling on our neighbors and now it's becoming a problem for them, too," Valle said. 

Amherst firefighters are responsible for keeping 100,000 people safe on a daily basis.

Between surrounding communities and colleges they responded to 6,000 calls last year. That's more than three times the amount they responded to 40 years ago when they had the same amount of people on duty.

"We are just not large enough to handle a call volume for a community that size," Valle said. 

He says they have enough staff to safely cover 35,000 people.

"The call volumes are only going to go up from here. They continue to rise every year," Valle said. 

Amherst Town Manager John Musante says the public safety budget is growing and it's one of the most fundamental. He's proposing an additional $250,000 to their budget this year to increase minimum staffing levels.

"We're not just trying our best, I think we are doing our best. We've looked at call volume, we've put actions into place to address the need," Musante said. 

But Valle says they need more.

"The town's getting larger, the university is getting larger and the fire department is not," Valle said. 

Valle says help will come to those who need it, but it can be delayed. The town manager says he has faith in the fire department and ensures the community is safe.

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