Fire Chief: Contract is Biggest Obstacle to Advanced Ambulance Service

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Watertown fire ladder cropped

One of the goals of the Watertown Fire Department is to upgrade to advanced life support (ALS) ambulance service, but to do so Fire Chief Mario Orangio said the town will have to settle the contract with the firefighters union.

Orangio presented his budget to the Town Council Wednesday night. Watertown has eight certified paramedics in the department. The Fire Department’s budget of $8.8 million includes $95,000 for equipment required to start-up an ALS service ambulance. Currently Watertown uses an outside ambulance service for ALS service, and the Fire Department provides basic life support (BLS) services.

When asked what else he needed to move ahead with adding ALS service, Orangio said:

“If I could speak candidly, bargaining a contract agreement with the union,” he said. “There are a lot of changes to working conditions. (Those) would need to be negotiated into the collective bargaining agreement.”

The fire union, Local 1347, has been working without a contract for nearly six years. In December 2014, it appeared the contract might be settled, when an award from an independent arbitration board recommended an agreement. The Town Council, however, voted 8-1 against funding the agreement saying it would be unfair to other unions in town (read more here).

The union recently filed suit in Middlesex Superior Court asking for the vote to be retaken, claiming the Town Council acted improperly by rejecting the agreement (see details here).

Town Council President Mark Sideris praised the firefighters for continuing to provide top-notch service despite the contract dispute.

“I know there is an elephant in the room,” Sideris said. “I thank you and the department for the professionalism of your department. When they put on the uniform they truly meet all the goals despite all the issues you are dealing with.”

Orangio said the Watertown Firefighters will “show up and do the job professionally” no matter the status of the contract.

Orangio also requested that the town fund a full-time, in-house mechanic to do maintenance on fire vehicles. A long-time firefighter who worked on the fire equipment recently retired. Now trucks must be sent out to be maintained.

Along with serving as Fire Chief, Orangio is the director of Emergency Management. That was put to the test in April 2013, when the town shutdown to hunt for the Boston Marathon Bombing suspect.

Orangio said everything went well, but there were some things that could have been done better.

“I was so involved and (Police) Chief (Edward) Deveau was so involved,” Orangio said.

He requested having someone be hired to serve as Emergency Management director, but the request was denied. Orangio said many communities, including Waltham, Cambridge and Boston, have a director who is not the fire or police chief.

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