Hatfield Fire Department facing staffing issues

The response to a house fire we told you about in Hatfield on Tuesday revealed just how short staffed the town’s fire department is.
Updated: Aug. 17, 2022 at 5:00 PM EDT
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HATFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- The response to a house fire we told you about in Hatfield on Tuesday revealed just how short staffed the town’s fire department is.

“The first initial response, our Engine 1 responded with myself and one firefighter only, so we were the initial attack crew,” said Hatfield Fire Chief Robert Flaherty.

When the pair arrived at a house fire on Bridge Street in Hatfield on Tuesday, one firefighter served as the pump operator, running the truck, as Flaherty took the hose.

“So in this particular case, even though I am the fire chief, I was also the first person that was in the building and I was on the nozzle,” Flaherty added.

Typically, a fire chief would be outside the building, commanding the scene, but for the second time in a month, Flaherty had to lead the hose line.

“We go to several calls with one and two people on a fire truck,” Flaherty explained.

It’s a far cry from the standards set forth by the National Fire Protection Association.

“You’re supposed to have two firefighters entering a building and then have two outside as a back-up crew, God forbid something were to happen,” Flaherty noted.

The Hatfield Fire Department is made up of call volunteer firefighters, meaning they get paid for calls and trainings, but most of them have full-time jobs and busy lives that tie them up.

“So it doesn’t leave a lot of hours in the course of a day to dedicate to being a member of the department or even if they are a member, they just can’t make necessarily every call that’s out there,” Flaherty said.

That’s especially true for midday calls, like Tuesday’s fire, that happened around 3 p.m.

The National Volunteer Fire Council told Western Mass News the shortage is partly due to shifting demographics.

“The smaller towns that rely most on volunteer service are the communities that are shifting in age to become retiree communities,” said Chief Joe Maruca, board member of the National Volunteer Fire Council.

There’s also an economic shift. People who live in small towns often have to commute a ways to their jobs.

“So even where we do have a number of them who are volunteers, they’re only available to us from seven o’clock at night until six o’clock in the morning,” Maruca added.

Flaherty told us they could use up to 10 more firefighters, so they’re not relying on mutual aid, which can take precious minutes in an emergency.

“So there’s always help coming, but there can be a little bit delayed, depending on where you are in the region,” Flaherty said.

No one was hurt in Tuesday’s fire. The department said the fire was started by spontaneous combustion, which can happen with rags that contain residue of paint stain.