Worcester plans fire services review
Fire Chief Michael J. Lavoie recommended hiring a consultant to analyze the fire department's practices and help develop a strategic plan
Telegram & Gazette, Worcester, Mass.
WORCESTER, Mass. — The city of Worcester intends to hire a professional fire service consultant to conduct an examination and analysis of the administration, operations, training and deployment practices of the Fire Department.
The study will include a master plan for the Fire Department that will assess its internal operations and staffing, and provide a gap analysis of its current situation against national standards and best practices, according to City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr.
Simultaneous with that study, Augustus said, he will conduct a review of the Division of Inspectional Services, since it works with the Fire Department to ensure the safety of all buildings in the city.
The manager said a coordinated approach by both departments is critical to keeping residents and first responders safe.
Those interdepartmental responsibilities include the enforcement of city ordinances, fire and building codes, plan reviews and inspections, all with the goal of reducing the risk of loss of life and property in fires or other emergencies.
"The city has always prioritized the health and safety of its citizens and firefighters," Augustus wrote in a report that goes before the City Council Tuesday night.
"Both reviews will ensure that our Fire Department continues to provide the residents of Worcester superior emergency response services in a manner that meets or exceeds national standards and allows our firefighters the greatest margin of safety possible for decades to come."
After Fire Lt. Jason Menard died while battling a house fire at 7 Stockholm St. on Nov. 13, the city manager announced that he, along with the Fire Department, would undertake a formal review process to identify any changes, enhancements and innovations needed to make firefighting in Worcester as safe as possible. Menard was the ninth Worcester firefighter in two decades to die in the line of duty.
At first, Augustus considered putting together a task force to investigate all those issues. But while assessing the needs and strategies involved in such a review process, the manager said fire chiefs from across the country who had experienced similar tragedies recommended the use of a professional fire service consultant.
The hiring of a consultant was eventually recommended by Worcester Fire Chief Michael J. Lavoie.
"The consultant will conduct an exhaustive examination of every aspect of our department's administration, operations, training and deployment," Lavoie said. "This analysis should be a data driven study of our department that compares our department to national standards and best practices.
"The study I am requesting will include a Fire Department master plan, standards of cover, community risk assessment and a strategic plan," he said.
Lavoie said part of the study will look at the Fire Department's current deployment model and test it to see if it meets the response needs of the community and its risks.
A community risk assessment will seek to understand the fire and life safety problem in Worcester and determine the type of protection the city has, based on national standards, according to the chief, while a strategic plan will provide a road map for implementing changes and improvements.
Lavoie said once the study is complete and the strategic plan is in place, the Fire Department will seek accreditation through the Center for Public Safety Excellence. He anticipates that the Fire Department will become accredited within five years.
"Obtaining and maintaining accreditation requires a constant and continuous improvement process," Lavoie said. "This process will ensure that our department continues to provide the residents of Worcester superior emergency response services in a manner that meets or exceeds national standards and allows our firefighters the greatest margin of safety possible for decades to come."
Augustus said the development of the strategic plan will be a transparent process with community hearings and public reports.
Lavoie said the Fire Department responds to more than 30,000 calls for service annually, many of them going beyond basic firefighting. Besides fighting fires, the department provides emergency medical services, hazardous materials response and technical rescue, among other services.
The chief said the Fire Department, along with the American Fire Service, has adapted to the changing needs of the population as cities have grown and evolved.
"This evolution has been slow, and careful to integrate the important traditions and values of the fire service," Lavoie said. "Today, however, the world is changing at a far greater pace than in the past. Community expectations of public service have increased, and they demand higher quality services delivered with more accountability. Technology is developing at an overwhelming pace and changing every aspect of life, and firefighting as well."
The chief pointed out that for decades the main fire problem in Worcester was wood-frame buildings with contents made from natural materials.
Today, he said, homes and buildings are filled with plastics and synthetic materials that create their own toxic fuel as they burn.
"Today's fires burn far hotter and faster than the fires of decades past," Lavoie said. "Even though the occurrence of fire is down, today's fires are more dangerous than ever. While we have saved many lives and prevented millions of dollars in property loss over the last 20 years, it has come at a great cost to our department."
©2020 Telegram & Gazette, Worcester, Mass.