Staffing Changes at Hudson Fire Department

April 11. 2014
by Lynne Ober

Five of eight call firefighters resigned from the Hudson Fire Department slightly more than a month ago.  “These firefighters will be missed and are a loss to the department,” said Hudson Fire Chief Rob Buxton, “but we are still fully staffed for all needs.”  Buxton characterized all his call firefighters including those who resigned, as the best of the community.

Decades ago Hudson’s Fire Department began as an all-call fire department and then in the ‘80s and ‘90s full-time staff was approved and hired to support the call department.  As the years passed, more full-time staff was added and, today there is a role reversal with the call staff supporting the full-time staff.  “Call firefighters are also well trained and very dedicated,” said Buxton.

“It used to be that employers would allow call firefighters to leave their jobs to respond to a call, but today the working environment has evolved and that is not the case,” said Buxton, who noted that in the past most of the firefighters lived in Hudson.  “That is one reason that many fire departments moved to a model of full-time firefighters while continuing to train and use call firefighters as well.”

Buxton said that regionally statistics are kept and shared by other fire chiefs, and these statistics show that today a call firefighter will average between 18 and 24 months of service to a fire department.  “Our call staff is made up of trained firefighters who bring a lot to the community so when there is turnover in staffing; each firefighter who resigns is missed.  However, we all have families and full-time jobs so a call firefighter is balancing all facets of his life and sometimes something has to give.”

If a call firefighter from the ‘20s returned to look at today’s firefighters, he would be amazed at the changes.  Today each firefighter goes through state training and gets certified, has more advanced equipment than before, is required to participate in continuing training and responds to a wider variety of incidents.  For a call firefighter there is a monthly training commitment as well as a commitment to respond to calls.

When former Fire Chief Shawn Murray was Hudson assistant chief, he began the ride-along program, and still today each call firefighter must complete a minimum of 4 hours each month in this program, but may opt to complete up to 14 hours each month.  While these are paid hours devoted to training and working with the Hudson firefighting team, the hours are also hours away from other things such as family.

Buxton said that he and his staff are reviewing the role of call firefighters and looking for ways to retain them once they join the force.  Buxton said that if someone wants to become a call firefighter, but has had no training, the town will invest nearly $10,000 before that person is ready to respond to a call.  “There are a number of steps from getting a physical, which we pay for, purchasing protective clothing, getting certified training from the state and then getting internal training.  Because of that cost we are reviewing how we can retain our call firefighters.”

Buxton also noted that while there are nationally recognized standards, there are differences from department to department.  “We might staff one of our apparatus with three firefighters while another department would staff that same type of apparatus with four firefighters, and that’s why monthly training will be needed even if a call firefighter serves at another fire department.”

Buxton complimented the work done by Captain Dave Morin as he manages the department’s Explorer troop.  “We have gotten several call firefighters from the members of the Explorer Troop,” said Buxton, “and some members have become full-time firefighters in other departments.”  Buxton cited Tommy Sullivan as an example of an Explorer who first because a call firefighters and then became a full-time member of the department; Buxton noted there were others.

Since the resignations, full-time staff members have responded.  Buxton said he sees a continued role for call firefighters now and into the future.  “As with all facets of any organization, we need to review and perhaps revise the role that call firefighters currently play.  We want them to feel like a part of the team when they respond to a call with full-time permanent staff.  The ride-along program is one was to accomplish that.”