Members of the Everett Fire Union are speaking out against a report from Chief Tony Carli detailing that call volumes decreased by 1,000 last year in the 2020 pandemic era – saying that the allusion was firefighters aren’t needed as much as they used to be.
Members of the Everett Fire Union board spoke to the Independent this week, including President Craig Hardy, Secretary Sean Hogan and members Dep. Chief Sean Dattoli and Capt. Walter Sikora. They all said calls were down because of COVID response changes, and also said the Fire Service needs to be restored to its former levels of at least 100 before instituting more hiring to staff the proposed in-house ambulance service proposed by the mayor and Chief Carli.
“That story and the comments by the chief were very concerning to us and it was a demoralizing article to our members,” said Hardy. “The numbers were down because it was a pandemic. We changed how we operated and we changed through the Chief. For the safety of our members and the general public, we changed how we responded…It left me scratching my head because it seemed to be that the chief is trying to justify the ambulance. We’re all for the ambulance and they really want it, but we want to be part of the process.”
Dattoli said the explanation for the dropped call numbers is as easy as three words – Encore Boston Harbor. He said the casino shutdowns in 2020 were a direct result of the decreased call volumes.
“If it had been open, we’d have been 2,000 over the call volumes of the previous year,” he said. “To use the call volumes from the year of a pandemic and just go off that, that leaves me scratching my head. The call volumes for Encore (in 2019) were more than 700 calls over 2020. If you add those in, we’re right where we were. The City was shut down a good part of the pandemic, not to mention the schools, and other businesses being shut down as well.”
Chief Carli said his comments weren’t meant as a crutch to cut back the Fire Department, but to simply state a fact that he expected more calls, and regionally calls were down. That, he said, was not expected at the outset of the pandemic.
“It’s something where 2020 will always go down with an asterisk,” he said. “We’re not looking at shutting down the Fire Department because we’re down 1,000 calls. What I was saying is it was puzzling.
“I think what we should be celebrating here is that there were 1,000 addresses that didn’t need us,” he continued. “We’re one of the few industries that celebrate less responses…I hope it didn’t come across we were saying that we were trying to use this data to make changes to our department…You need three or four years of data to look at anything solid.”
Dep. Chief Sikora said one of the key things that needs to be addressed is the staffing shortages of recent years. He said no one has been hired since 2016, and he said staffing was at more than 100 when Encore opened in 2019.
“The numbers show we are close to 31 down from that time,” he said. “In that time, we’ve had at least seven new developments that are large, and they’re talking about maybe 10 more, including the SkyEverett high-rise that’s proposed…We’re getting to a critical point with staffing. Our City is expanding upward. We don’t have the land to expand outward so we’re expanding up with high-rises.”
Hogan said the numbers were purely a product of COVID-19, and he said once the City comes out of COVID and continues to grow, there are going to need to be more firefighters for hazard prevention.
“The numbers were a product of COVID-19 and not because we weren’t needed,” he said. “People weren’t going out and it was a direct result of that…It’s great they’re hiring 20 people to put on the ambulance. That’s a good thing , but we need to protect the citizens before we put an ambulance in service. We think our numbers are dangerously low.”
All said that before the City embarks on its ambulance service next month, it needs to commit to restoring the contingent that was in place when Encore opened. Then, they said, they should hire ambulance personnel.
Carli said he knows the lower numbers last year were a product of the virus. His colleagues at the Chelsea Fire Department have reported that they were down 1,000 calls also, and Somerville Fire was down 500 calls last year. “It wasn’t an oddity in Everett,” he said. “I understand what they’re feeling.”