Watertown Fire Chief Mario Orangio remains concerned about short staffing in his department due to the Fiscal 2013, which the Town Council approved Tuesday. He worries could lead to a tragedy.
Watertown often has 16 firefighters on duty, but Orangio told the council last week that he believes there should be at least 19 firefighters on duty at all times. Sometimes the department is left with as few as 14 firefighters if the town's ambulance is taking a patient to the hospital. Orangio said he needs a minimum of 16 firefighters to safely put out a house fire.
“What will happen is there will be a tragedy, like they had in Charlestown, like in Randolph, like in Haverhill, and they will increase staffing then,” Orangio said Tuesday after the budget was adopted. “I don’t want to be the fire chief standing in front of the council saying ‘I told you so.’”
Town Councilor Angeline Kounelis voted against the budgets for both the Fire and Police departments this week as a protest against the short staffing of Watertown’s public safety departments.
Both Orangio and Police Chief Edward Deveau told the Town Council they cannot provide the services they once did due to shrinking personnel numbers. This is not the first time that Kounelis voted against the Police and Fire budgets.
“Until those departments are fully staffed for the safety of citizens I will pass on this vote,” Kounelis said. “I am disheartened to see ladder 2 [located at the East Watertown Fire Station] out of serve more than 50 percent of the time. I am also disheartened to hear that the police detectives are understaffed.”
Kounelis was the lone “no” vote for the two budgets, which passed Tuesday along with the rest of the $102 million town budget.
Town Manager Michael Driscoll compared Watertown to other nearby towns, which he said have smaller staff and/or smaller budgets.
Watertown has 83 firefighters and 65 police officers – 148 total – while Arlington has 143 total (77 firefighters and 66 police officers). Belmont has 100 total, with 54 firefighters and 46 police officers, Driscoll said.
Watertown’s combined budget for police and fire is $15.5 million, while Arlington’s is $12.7 million and Belmont’s is $11.7 million, Driscoll said.
Orangio said that it is hard to compare departments, and he could find two others with bigger budgets.