May 23, 2018
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Review offers suggestions for improvement in Bangor Fire Department

By Eric Russell, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — The most exhaustive independent review of the Bangor Fire Department in more than a decade has produced more than 60 recommendations for improvements, but none that are considered critically important.

Members of the City Council last week reviewed the report from Emergency Services Consulting International of Wilsonville, Ore., that was commissioned last fall. Although no decisions were made, City Manager Catherine Conlow is expected to use the report and its findings to see what can reasonably be implemented in the future.

“From my perspective, [the report] says we’re doing many things very well and there are a few things we can do better,” said Councilor Rick Bronson, a former longtime fire chief in Brewer. “I think when we start looking at what changes we can make, we’ll look at ones that save money first, but none of this will happen overnight.”

It’s unlikely that the consultant’s report will have an impact on the 2011-12 fiscal year since councilors must approve that budget by June 30.

Last fall, after some contentious debate, the City Council voted to spend $71,000 to conduct independent reviews of both the Fire Department and the Police Department in an attempt to find efficiencies. The Police Department review, completed by McGrath Consulting Group of Wonder Lake, Ill., also has been completed and is expected to be presented to councilors later this month.

When the council voted to hire the consultants, both Fire Chief Jeff Cammack and Police Chief Ron Gastia bristled initially. Cammack, in particular, wondered why the Fire Department was targeted for review since the initial impetus for discussion stemmed from a high amount of overtime inside the Police Department.

“I’m a little disappointed in your willingness to do this study, which could cost up to $80,000, when you couldn’t afford nonunion wage increases for employees,” the fire chief said at the time.

Cammack did not return a call last week for comment about the report, but Bronson said the fire chief was comfortable with the findings and the process. Both Cammack and Gastia had a hand in selecting the consultants for their respective departments.

Among the 65 recommendations by Emergency Services Consulting International, 46 were considered low-priority, but 17 would correct a service delivery or management issue.

Two suggestions would address what the consultant deemed “legal or financial exposure.” They are: 1. Asking the department mechanic to obtain emergency vehicle technician certification; and 2. Developing a policy for allowing in-house repairs by Fire Department members.

Many of the other suggestions deal with improving record-keeping practices, tightening scheduling procedure and updating departmental guidelines.

Perhaps the biggest fault found by the fire department consultant, Bronson said, is the absence of a long-term strategic plan for the department or vision for the future.

Another section in the consultant’s report outlines some deficiencies in dispatch operations, something that has been a topic of conversation among Bangor leaders for years.

City councilors voted last fall to consolidate its police and fire dispatch services with Penobscot County Regional Communications Center despite protestations from the police and fire chiefs. That process is on hold, however, after current Bangor dispatcher James Morrill successfully gathered enough petition signatures to force a citywide referendum vote.

That vote, which will ask whether Bangor should consolidate or keep its own dispatch, will be held in November.

Addressing criticism that has been aimed at councilors for spending money on consultants, Bronson said he understands taxpayer frustration, but he offered an analogy: “If you had a $7 million a year business and spent $50,000 to have a consultant come in and assess strengths and weaknesses, that would seem like money well spent,” he said. “The last time we did this was 15 years ago, I think, and we’ve spent tens of millions [on public safety] during that time period.”

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