Town Officials Concerned About Spike in Fire Department Injury Claims
Year-to-date overtime is significantly above what it was last year, due to an increase in the number of paid injuries in the fire department.
Injuries nearly doubled.
Overtime budget up by 69 percent.
That was the story told Tuesday night by interim Fire Chief John Green as he spoke to the Board of Selectmen. He and Assistant Town Administrator Melissa Goff had a chart of fire department injury claims. According to that chart, injuries have nearly doubled in the last year, driving the overtime budget up by 69 percent.
This increase has cost the department $288,561 in OT this year alone. If the trend continues, Goff's projections indicate that fire personnel could be $200,000 to $250,000 over budget. The Selectmen said they plan to investigate this.
Selectman Ken Goldstein asked, "is there something we could be doing better to prevent these injuries?"
Green said that every single injury is investigated. The department looks into every incident to determine whether a department procedure was violated, and how to prevent future injuries.
“If there was a pattern to it, we’d investigate it, but there is not,” Green added. He appeared troubled by the questions.
Selectman Dick Benka pointed out that the injury statistics may reflect different types of injuries. Some injuries may be more severe than others, and require more time out for the patient to recover.
“Believe it or not, it seems to run in cycles--we saw a year of rotator cuffs.” Green explained, noting he had not considered the type of injuries in these statistics. “Right now, a number of these injuries are back injuries that required surgery.”
He added that the accepted time for full recovery from a back surgery is a year.
“I’d like this board to really understand: for the fire department administrative staff, this bothers us more than it bothers you. Not only monetarily, but 'are we fulfilling our obligations to provide safety to our firefighters?'” Green said.
"The numbers are what the numbers are," Selectman Dick Benka commented. "The Board has indicated that it probably does make sense to dig a little further into it and see what can be done."
Green agreed, but said this should not fall on incoming fire chief Peter Ford. He will be made aware of the situation, but "will have other things on his plate."
Town Administrator Mel Kleckner commented that the intent of the memo was to alert the selectmen to the situation, as it may require a later reserve fund transfer.
Green also commented that he feels this is the "one black mark" on his time as an interim fire chief.
Said Selectman Chair Betsy DeWitt, “The fact that you would do this virtually on your last days says that you are not only an honorable person, but a straight-shooter. You would not leave this behind.”
Selectman Nancy Daly commented on the sick leave, pointing out a trend toward sick days off on Fridays and Saturdays. Green said the department is addressing that trend, and has spoken to some employees who routinely take sick on weekends. Adding that they have seen improvements in the people they have spoken to.