Mass. fire union squares off with town over proposed hiring changes
The union is urging voters to reject proposals, one of which eliminates the requirement that firefighters be certified paramedics
By Mary Whitfill
The Patriot Ledger
HULL, Mass. — A town meeting measure that would change the hiring practice for future chiefs and deputy chiefs in the fire department is under fire by the local union. Hull Firefighters Local 1657 is urging voters to reject proposals at town meeting, the second of which eliminates the requirement that firefighters be certified paramedics.
Selectmen are proposing that voters change the fire chief and deputy fire chief positions from civil service to contract positions. This would exempt the hiring for these positions from state-defined civil service status, a program that allows fire fighters to study and compete by exam for positions and promotions in the department. Rather than base future hiring on exam performance, the town would be able to draft its own qualifications, experience and skill requirements for the jobs.
The union says this undermines the internal process that allows fire fighters to compete for promotions in their own departments, and eliminates rules that provide for fair and politically unbiased appointments.
"It would forever change the structure of the Hull Fire Department and take away two promotional positions for bargaining unit members," union president Dom Sciara said. "If we don't have the ability to be promoted or achieve for a deputy chief position, it would be a dead-end job. It may not be perfect, but the civil service system is the fairest system around right now."
The new law would also make it easier to fire the chief or deputy chief, Sciara said, as terminating those in civil service positions is subject to a higher level of scrutiny. The measure was co-sponsored by the current fire chief, who will not be affected by the new rules and who was promoted through the civil service system.
Sciara said the new rules could also lead to hiring of less-qualified applicants.
"Selectmen can pick somebody with zero knowledge of the town, and we are very unique being a peninsula and a coastal community," he said. "If you get someone from another city, town or state, they may not be familiar with certain aspects of our community, so to hire within is the knowledgeable thing to do."
A second article being opposed by the fire union would change the town's bylaws to eliminate the requirement that candidates for firefighter positions be certified paramedics. The measure would strike the requirement of having a Massachusetts Emergency Medical Technician Paramedic certificate, and only require candidates to be certified EMTs, a lower set of qualifications.
'It gives discretion to the appointing authority to hire whoever he wants – providing for a political appointment," Sciara said.
Hull has only one paramedic-staffed ambulance, meaning no other paramedics would be on call if that ambulance were out of town on a mutual-aid call, the union says. Services paramedics are licensed to provide that EMTs are not include intubation, cardiac monitoring and providing intravenous emergency medications. The bylaw requiring paramedic training was first implemented in 2003.
"Paramedicine is the standard of pre-hospital care. It's the best pre-hospital care you can receive – we bring the emergency room to you," Sciara said. Don't let someone jeopardize your services, it is the standard now a days. Every community around does it this way and will continue to do so. Scituate, Cohasset, Hingham, Rockland, Hanover – everybody hires paramedics."
This measure was sponsored by Fire Chief Christopher Russo, who did not return requests for comment Thursday.
The annual town meeting will start at 7 p.m. on Monday, May 7 at Hull High School, 180 Main St. The full town meeting warrant is available at town.hull.ma.us.
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