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Watertown Fire Chief Concerned Short Staffing Could Lead to a Tragedy

The fire and police budgets were approved, but the chiefs of both departements say they need more personnel on duty.

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.

, 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 .

“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 ] 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.

Peter Griffin June 15, 2012 at 07:42 PM
The TM needs to stop comparing Watertown to Belmont and Arlington. Neither of those towns come close to the demographics Watertown has. Also, who says those towns are at safe staffing levels? Last I checked Belmont has a Ladder truck staffed with two firefighters most of the time. That means that truck is basically useless. Wake up people, we NEED fire and police there is no getting around it. Under staffed departments are not only unsafe for the police officers and firefighters, they're unsafe for the public too. I don't feel safe in this town with the way things are now. The TC is playing way too much with "what ifs".
Peter Griffin June 15, 2012 at 10:25 PM
Maybe I'm not using the right word, but, I mean the differences between residential, commercial, and industrial. They're much different between the three.
Esther Schwalm June 16, 2012 at 04:34 PM
The Town Councilers and Manager need to take another hard look at the necessity to have a fully staffed Fire and Police Department before a horrendous situation and tragedy strikes Watertown. Many years ago I was in such a tragedy when three small children perished in a fire. Trust me no one wants to live through such a horrible nightmare. Time may pass but the reality and memory of such horror never goes away. Any time you hear a siren or fire truck pass by, it triggers the horrific scene of that night. Stop comparing Watertown to other towns and work to ensure the safety of the people of our town. We need to fully staff our Fire and Police Departments to enable them to adequately keep the town safe. If that means a higher budget for these departments than so be it. Stop lining your own pockets at the expense of our safety!!
zip zen June 17, 2012 at 02:10 AM
Not to mention the safety of our Police and Fire personnel

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