The Block Island Times

Fire and rescue takes a look at current needs

And also takes a look back
By Joel Taylor | Mar 14, 2014

Members of the Block Island Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad met on Monday night in a relaxed atmosphere compared to recent meetings. Jaixon Hall brought in a copy of The Block Island Times from 1971 he found in his mother’s closet to share with the group. On the front page of the brown, deteriorating issue was a photo of the Ocean View fire of 1966. Fire Captain Joe Sprague carefully turned the page to find a photo of the members of the Fire Department who responded to the fire at the time, who he named nostalgically one by one.

Foreman Pete McNerney also passed around photos of one the island’s ambulances, Rescue One, before the meeting.

Rescue One is currently being refitted with a new cab and chassis on the mainland, among other minor repairs. The truck itself needed to be replaced, but the Rescue Squad wanted to keep the rear part of the vehicle, so the box is being reattached to a new cab and chassis. McNerney later said that it should be completed and returned to the island in early April. The town has covered the cost of the repairs. Although Rescue One is currently owned by the town, members at the meeting agreed that it would be easy enough to buy it back from the town in order to sell the old cab and chassis. During the meeting, a motion was made and seconded to take that action.

The meeting began with Treasurer Peter Greenman’s financial report. The combined assets of the Fire Department and the Rescue Squad amount to $582,000, “on a worst case basis, if we ever had to liquidate all of our assets into cash,” Greenman said. Greenman also reported a combined net loss of $3,373 so far this year. According to Greenman, a loss at this time of year is perfectly normal. The net loss was almost twice as large at this time last year, he said.

Continuing the financial discussion, Rescue Capt. Bryan Wilson said, “Tristan [Payne], Pete [Gempp], myself, and Gary [Ryan] had an opportunity to look over last year’s numbers.” Wilson recalled last year’s operating budget to be $168,000, and that they had received exactly half of that amount from the town. Thanks to private donations, the Fire Department and Rescue Squad were able to sustain their operating costs and ended the year with a surplus of $10,000, according to Wilson.

McNerney said later in the meeting that he’d like to see their operating costs and expenditures publicized a little more, at the very least, to show that those numbers are real and that the purchases they make are all vital, because he’d prefer the town to offer more assistance in the future. Kevin Hoyt said that, whether the money is coming from taxpayers through the town or directly from donors, “it’s all coming from the same place.” McNerney’s concern was that they “can’t continue to rely on donations.”

After discussing minor repairs to Engine Number One, Payne reviewed the last month’s expenses and bills with the group. Afterward, Wilson announced there had been one rescue call since the last meeting, and Assistant Chief Peter Gempp said the Fire Department had responded to 20 alarms in the last month.

“That’s pretty bad for February,” McNerney said.

“What’s worse,” Gempp said, “Is I only see two other people in this room who responded to any of those calls.”

Sensing some growing agitation, Payne said, “we need to have another talk about that.”

Wilson moved the meeting forward, and asked for an allocation of up to $3,000 to repair the oxygen generation system. Generally, the lifetimes on the systems are expected to be 12 years, and this one is six years old, according to Wilson. With another six years of life expectancy, the group made a motion and seconded to direct $3,000 toward the restoration of the system. Questions did arise about the use of the oxygen, however.

The Medical Center has been using oxygen from the Department’s generation system, and McNerney asked Wilson if the Medical Center pays for any of it. Wilson said they haven’t been asking for any money from the Medical Center for their use of the oxygen, and that they use about 10 percent of every tank. Joe Sprague thought they should “at least approach [the Medical Center] about paying for the oxygen.” Wilson said he’d speak to Medical Center Director Barbara Baldwin about having the center “chip in” for the oxygen.

In new business, Wilson brought New England’s recent drug overdose epidemic to the attention of the group, citing especially high numbers of heroin overdoses in New Bedford, Mass., in addition to those in Rhode Island. Wilson said a hospital in New Bedford had received 15 patients in 24 hours for opiate overdoses. Gempp said there have been as many as 116 reported overdoses in a single week in Rhode Island.

A major portion of the heroin supply has been cut with dangerous amounts of fentanyl, an anesthetic, and “it will make its way to our shores,” Wilson said. “If anyone is worried about somebody they know, Narcan is available over the counter now in Rhode Island,” he continued. Narcan is a drug that’s designed to combat opiate overdose by detaching the opiates from receptors in the brain and restarting the respiratory system. It used to be only available as an injection, but now it’s available in the form of a nasal spray. More importantly, Wilson said the Rescue Squad is working on acquiring Narcan for its responders to carry; they need approval from the Medical Center to do so.

After the meeting, Wilson asserted the necessity for rescue responders to carry nasally-administered Narcan. According to protocol, he said, when someone is admitted to a hospital for an overdose, the nurses have to insert an I.V. and then administer Narcan intravenously. In some cases, it could be too late by that time.

Lastly, Wilson asked for $28,000 to order the Rescue Squad’s supplies for the 2014 season. In an attempt to make the process more streamlined, Wilson would like to order as many supplies as possible in as few orders as possible this year. The Rescue Squad intends to use purchase orders, each signed by two officers, to make the orders for supplies. A motion was made and seconded to allocate $28,000 to the Rescue Squad for supplies, and to use the purchase order process to do so. A productive meeting at the Police Station was then adjourned.


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