Adams Fire Department proposed changes up to voters

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ADAMS — The Prudential Committee will finalize its budget Monday and Wednesday, but a couple of items on the financial plan will go to voters.

Adams Fire Chief John Pansecchi is asking the Fire Department's Prudential Committee for permission to make the chief slot a full-time paid position, and to add another full-time firefighter to the day shift to help with a growing list of responsibilities and help respond to daytime fire calls.

The three-member Prudential Committee, the taxing entity that oversees the Fire District, which administers the Water Department and the Fire Department, decided to put the question to voters in the Adams Fire District during the May 14 annual election.

The committee will finalize the ballot wording Monday, according to Thomas Satko, chairman of the Prudential Committee.

"We decided it's a big thing, so we wanted to put it out to the people of the Fire District," he said.

The proposal calls for a full-time fire chief at an annual salary of $65,000 and a full-time firefighter at a pay rate of $40,920, or $19 per hour.

In a memo to the committee, Pansecchi describes an extensive workload that continues to grow with new local, state and federal regulations. As it is, he wrote, "There is a tremendous amount of inspections and issues that don't get completed. This puts liability on the district and myself."

For example, he noted, this month the Fire Department starts to fall under regulations of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, meaning that it will be mandated to meet these regulations that require extensive research and documentation of vehicle maintenance and repair, among other things.

Then there is the increasing list of regional and local meetings regarding a variety of topics, including hazardous mitigation, communications and emergency management. These are in addition to the inspections and consultations already required.

Pansecchi researched how other towns compensate fire chiefs and determined that Adams is the fourth-largest community in the state that does not have a full-time chief. In addition, he found that there are 264 full-time chiefs in the state. Among 197 of them — salary data wer unavailable for 67 of the chiefs — the average salary is $111,796. The average salary for chiefs in communities larger than Adams is $123,000. In communities smaller than Adams, the average is $88,305.

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In Berkshire County, there are eight full-time chiefs, with an average salary of $67,714.

In Adams, he explained, the police chief earns $86,900, and the ambulance director makes about $65,000.

As a result of his research, Pansecchi determined that his proposal of a $65,000 annual salary would be a fair figure. Employee benefits for a full-time chief and firefighter would cost an additional $59,000 for items such as health insurance and life insurance, according to a spreadsheet issued by the Fire District.

Pansecchi told The Eagle this is not something he is seeking to increase his personal income, but a fair compensation no matter who happens to be the fire chief.

Satko noted that Pansecchi is paid $16,000 annually. It is considered a part-time position. Pansecchi has a full-time job as emergency dispatcher for Pittsfield.

Satko said that with all the budget increases, the current annual Fire District fee of $80 per living unit in Adams would increase to $120.

"We know that many people are having a harder time than they used to paying their taxes," Satko said.

He noted that during the recent Prudential Committee meetings, there have not been many firefighters in attendance to show support for the chief's proposal.

Satko acknowledged that the past two fire chiefs also have indicated the need for full-time Fire Department personnel in town during the daytime, when most firefighters are working at jobs out of town and can't respond to emergency calls.

If voters approve the proposal, Satko said, officials would have to make a change to the town bylaws and work up a job description complete with a pay scale chart.

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or 413-629-4517.


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