Wintry Mix – Fire Chief

By S.D. Plissken | March 5, 2019

The Milton Meet the Candidates night went forward as planned. The winter storm had largely dissipated by late afternoon. High winds followed.

As for the presentations, they were … interesting.

Continued from Wintry Mix – Budget Committee

For Fire Chief – One Three-Year Term

Incumbent Fire Chief Nicholas Marique provided handouts. One was his resume and the other a description of the interim pumper truck. The challenger is Mr. Stephen Duchesneau, a former Milton firefighter, who has run several times before.

The Point

Lest we forget: the point of this exercise is to determine which candidate can perform this task adequately at the lowest cost to the taxpayer.

Marique - 2Much concern arises from the vast sums of money that have been spent already, such as the exceedingly expensive Fire palazzo, for which Chief Marique claimed the credit and responsibility. I have heard many, including some highly-placed officials, question the basic wisdom of this purchase. Whether it was money well spent is perhaps no longer an issue, but the scale of it hardly whets the appetite for still more. Many are feeling fairly “stuffed” right now, thank you. And engendering that overfed feeling was a part of the station’s cost too.

Chief Marique claimed that, in terms of such grand and ever increasing expenditures, we are very nearly there. If we will just stay the course – the one he has set – we will very soon reach an equilibrium point where the CIP plan can maintain us.

Of course, that plan is itself very much in question. It fuels constant spending at a level that one might well dispute. CIP oversight seems quite weak, both as regards the additions to the plan, the size of the expenditures, and the pace at which those acquisitions are scheduled.

The EMT Department

The moderator, Mr. Jacobs, helpfully pointed out that it might be possible to just eliminate the fire department altogether. It also emerged in discussion that the fire department spends 70% of its time on EMT ambulance service. Perhaps even calling it a fire department is then a bit of misnomer: it would seem to be principally an ambulance service that spends some of its time fighting fires.

DuchesneauMr. Duchesneau, put forward an overall claim that he could run the EMT Department at a lower cost than the incumbent, Chief Marique.

In broad strokes, Mr. Duchesneau’s plan seems to be that he would “Stop the Spending.” He spoke to increasing the proportion of resident firefighters relative to the number of out-of-town firefighters. The need to pay out-of-towners for sleeping-over would be reduced thereby, if not eliminated. Other cost-saving measures were on the table also.

He seems to assume, at least for daylight hours, that the resident firefighters would be drawn from the extremely small segment of Milton’s population that actually work in town. Otherwise, they would also be coming from afar.

That Pumper Truck

A brand-new $550,000 pumper truck was rejected on last year’s ballot and many were surprised and displeased to see it appear again this year. Because “‘no,’ should mean ‘no’.” Chief Marique heard them (somewhat belatedly) and substituted in a used pumper, at a very good price, but as a stop-gap. The planned $550,000 expenditure did not go away. It is still lurking around as a part of the CIP plan.

Chief Marique explained at one point that a thousand-gallon pumper truck will dispense water for about four minutes only. Two will do so for eight minutes, and so on. Not mentioned was how much time was required to put out the average house fire.

It might be argued that Milton should never buy a brand-new pumper truck. I have known people who have never had a new car in their entire lives. For them, that is basic frugality. Milton’s small (and stagnant) population size might require us to restrict ourselves always to the used market.

Uneven Coverage

It also emerged that the average response, given the distances involved and the need for firefighters to assemble, is about fifteen minutes. The response times should be shorter for those closest to the Fire palazzo, or, to some extent, for those near the Milton Mills substation.

The longest response times would be experienced by homeowners in South Milton, West Milton, outlying stretches between the two stations, and out on NH Route 153.

The time differential of a response to fires close to the Fire palazzo and those occurring on the outskirts is far greater than the additional four minutes that another pumper truck provides.

You have parts of town that are basically in the “Fire District” and those that are not. Not unlike the Water District. Perhaps that basic fact of uneven coverage should be reflected in the assessments and the bottom line of the taxes paid by those with the lesser coverage.

That Truck Fire

Mr. Duchesneau cited a truck fire that occurred near the fire station as an example of the current situation not working. The details remain hazy. It seems that there were two staff firefighters (rather than the volunteers) who were both out of town when the truck fire took place. They were picking up a vehicle that had undergone some maintenance. It seems that both staffers had been required for this vehicle pick-up because that is the minimum required to “man” this sort of vehicle.

I am not persuaded that this was in fact necessary. Has no one ever seen a taxi or bus with an “out of service” sign? This vehicle was out of service while being serviced and could no doubt continue to be out of service while some single firefighter or even some non-firefighter returned it from out-of-town. Where it could then be put back “in service.” Meanwhile, there would have been coverage.

But neither am I persuaded that this single fumble tells the tale all by itself. The point remains: who can maintain a fire department that we can actually afford?

Mr. Duchesneau’s points spoke largely to improved coverage, rather than reduced costs, except to the extent that it might reduce or eliminate the need for paid sleepovers. A smaller – but closer – staff might reduce costs (including breathing and other per-person equipment outlays).

Per-Person Expenses

A $70,000 expense for replacement breathing devices has been much mentioned lately. Each firefighter, or perhaps each seat of the fire vehicles (?), needs one of these. The Chief has said that they have a life-span of fifteen years and that ours are at the ten to twelve year mark.

Some have questioned why this expense comes all at once and not in some “rolling” sequence of, say, three or four a year. The Chief says that the equipment changes over time – their features, capabilities, and the placement of their dials and settings – and differences in equipment would emerge with phased purchases. That would be confusing at critical moments.

No one doubts the necessity for such equipment. But, if this is a per-firefighter expense, the size of Chief Marique’s roster has been questioned. A smaller personnel roster would require fewer personal devices.

Veering Off the Point

Unfortunately, both the challenger, the incumbent, and the audience seemed to veer off the point: coverage at the lowest possible cost.

There seemed to be a strong animosity between the two camps, whose origin remains unclear. Mr. Duchesneau said that neither he nor the Milton-resident firefighters that he would engage will work (or work again) for the current Chief. The reason – assuming they all have the same reason – was not explained.

Many of the questions seemed designed to highlight a perceived difference in qualifications between the two candidates. The difference seemed rather slight – one having, I believe, thirteen years experience versus the other’s twenty years. The Chief has been chief for over nine years.

Were Mr. Duchesneau’s firefighter’s certifications current? No, you need to be an active firefighter for that, which he would be if he won the election. Was his EMT license current? Yes, he has a national one. And so on.

This line of attack – it was quite heated, and repetitive – seemed weak to me. Ad hominem arguments – arguments against the man, rather than against his premise  –  are by definition fallacies.

First of all, licensing is when your right to do something is taken away and then sold back to you.

Secondly, all of the licensing demanded by the inquisitors – both the firefighter and the EMT certifications – were of the sort that only current employees may hold. There is no way that an ex-employee – even one with thirteen years experience – may secure the licensing in advance. This is the case in many fields. Mr. Duchesneau claimed to have the necessary classes and experience and, if he won the election, licensing would drop into place.

Mr. Duchesneau may have given the impression that he had more certifications than he presently does. He should clarify that in some way.

But this absolute faith in certifications and licensures is puzzling and somewhat misplaced. The College of Cardinals is not required to pick a cardinal, or even a Catholic, to be the Pope. Theoretically, anyone  in Christendom might be selected as Pope. Likewise, there is no requirement that a Supreme Court Justice be selected from among judges of lower Federal courts, or State Courts, or even country lawyers. Anyone at all can occupy that seat.

Likewise, another firefighter/EMT with similar experience, though with a slightly briefer tenure, could be Fire Chief. It might even be that someone with no experience or licensing at all could occupy that position, albeit in a administrative or managerial capacity only.

We will likely never know the cause of all the animus on display. But, that does not mean we do not note that it was present.

One might wish the inquisitors had stuck to the relevant issue: which candidate will run this department with the lowest possible tax expenditure?


See also Wintry Mix – School Board Candidates, Wintry Mix – Budget Committee, and Wintry Mix – Selectmen.


References:

Town of Milton. (2019, February 24). Meet the Candidates Night (Fire Chief). Retrieved from youtu.be/nOmRUcqTf08?t=9986

Wikipedia. (2019, January 31). Ad Hominem. Retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ad_hominem

 

Author: S.D. Plissken

I thought he'd be taller.

One thought on “Wintry Mix – Fire Chief”

  1. I agree. They seem to think that these seats and appointments are a popularity contest. I want someone to run the department efficiently and UNDER budget if possible. I run my household that way trying to save myself as much money as possible. It makes sense.

    Like

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