Harwich Fire Department Addressing Staffing Shortages

HARWICH – With ongoing staff shortages for firefighters, officials from the Harwich Fire Department have presented a new opportunity for hiring more staff to the town’s select board.

Fire Chief David LeBlanc and Deputy Chief Craig Thornton went before the board on Tuesday to detail a grant they have submitted that could help secure staffing for four employees.

Although the grant doesn’t provide funds for equipment or training, it does pay the salaries and benefits for four new firefighters for three years. In the fourth year, the town would be expected to take on those expenses.

Both officials from the department and the select board wanted to ensure there was a long-term plan for funding before potentially bringing on new officers.

“If we were to commit to hiring anybody, as we’ve learned back in early 2000, we need to have a funding mechanism,” Deputy Chief Thornton said.

Other points of the discussion included LeBlanc explaining how overtime pay has been used to compensate for limited staff. 

“Instead of hiring full time personnel and paying benefits, we’ve spent money on overtime and using existing personnel to backfill vacancies,” the chief said.

LeBlanc went on to clarify that building up staffing would not lead to significant savings in overtime.

Staffing shortages for firefighters and the housing crisis on the Cape were also brought up during the meeting. Board member Michael MacAskill spoke on the issue of new officers possibly not being able to afford to live in their response district.

“I think when the crisis happens it’s going to happen across the entire Cape and everybody’s going to be looking for firefighters. The cost of living here isn’t going down. It’s only going up,” MacAskill said.

When asked if budget concerns in a few years could be solved by positions opening at the department due to retirements, the department chiefs responded retirements have been factored into budgeting, but the department’s goal is to increase total staffing, not only fill positions that open.

Before providing an answer to the fire department about whether they would be able to go forward with hiring the new officers should they receive the grant, the board agreed to bring questions to the finance committee then have a standalone meeting to determine their position.

By Brian Engles, CapeCod.com NewsCenter

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