Firefighters’ Union Reignites Staffing Debate With Fiorentini as Resident Praises Dispatcher for Saving Life

Local 1011 Union President Timothy Carroll. (WHAV News photograph.)

Haverhill Fire Department Local 1011 President Tim Carroll pointed out the need for additional manpower at a July City Council meeting, and as negotiations continue, the union is letting residents do the talking—namely one woman who said a fire dispatcher saved her husband’s life when seconds were all he had.

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Firefighter Tim Nutter was recently commended for saving a man’s life on July 23 after talking his panicked wife through CPR over the phone. According to the woman, who lives in a rural area off of North Broadway, Water Street firefighter Nutter answered the dispatch call and kept her calm while Trinity EMS paramedics traveled the 13 minutes to reach their home.

“Your efforts to keep me keeping my husband breathing made the difference. You were so calm and assured on the phone. You are my hero,” she told Nutter, who has been with the Haverhill Fire Department for nearly three years.

The union used that family’s story as a cautionary tale, with Carroll telling WHAV it underscores the importance of having a firefighter in the dispatcher’s seat. Carroll also said taking dispatchers out of the alarm room to put them back on trucks—like Mayor James J. Fiorentini proposes—isn’t the smartest move. Fire dispatchers are trained through a state Fire Academy-sanctioned course, he said, and have the expertise not only to interface with the public, but also with firefighters on scene.

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Carroll tells WHAV he took offense to the way Fiorentini’s responded to his constituent’s kind words. When Fiorentini praised Nutter via Twitter Aug. 3, he also slipped in a mention that the woman called him to offer her support during the upcoming November election, adding the hash tag #fiorentiniworks to his post. Fiorentini said in part, “(That family) recognizes that civilian dispatchers put firefighters back fighting fires and that well-trained dispatchers will do this job well.”

At the July City Council meeting, Carroll—a 20-year department veteran—presented his union’s case for a gradual increase in the minimum number of firefighters on shift from 19 to 25 over five years. Ideally, Carroll said Haverhill would operate with 28 firefighters in each of the city’s four stations: Bradford, Water, High and 16th Streets.

Carroll said his ask to Fiorentini is a simple one. “We’re not asking for money, we’re not asking for salary increases, we’re asking for manning: Staffing numbers to make the citizens safe and make us safe,” Carroll told WHAV. “If he doesn’t want to do that, that’s on him.”

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Having 19 firefighters on per shift—not counting those out sick or on vacation—presents a significant public safety risk, Carroll told WHAV. According to the National Fire Protection Association standards Haverhill’s 94 firefighters follow, 90 percent of calls should be responded to in four minutes, and 80 percent within eight minutes. In some areas of the city, response time is nearly 20 minutes due to current staffing constraints.

As Carroll and his colleagues wait for the Council’s Public Safety subcommittee to hear their concerns, the union head tells WHAV he hopes Fiorentini will stop neglecting “real issues.”

According to Carroll, the firefighters’ union only agreed to use civilian dispatchers in exchange for small raises, which he tells WHAV they did not receive from 2006-2012.

“The Mayor talks about talking four guys out of the (dispatch) alarm room and putting them on trucks. That may add a 20th guy on shift, but that doesn’t add the minimum manning, which would make sure there’s always 20 people here,” he said. “The mayor’s playing games in how he’s wording it. He makes it sound like he’s giving us four firefighters, but he’s not. He’s just giving us an extra body so he saves money on overtime.”

Should Fiorentini choose to shift to an all-civilian dispatch system, Carroll says it presents a problem. Since firefighters work 24-hour shifts, two civilians working 12-hour shifts must be hired for every one firefighter taken out of that role.

Carroll also alleges that Fiorentini refused to let the fire department use the services of the city’s grant writer to apply for state and federal aid. Instead, several firefighters attended grant-writing classes on their own to file applications. He also accused Fiorentini of nixing additional department funding in March 2019 that could have come through the federal Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant by refusing to pay the required municipal match over a three-year period.

“You might have saved all those dollars over the last 14 years, but you saved them on the backs of the employees,” Carroll said. “Now the employees are coming to and saying ‘Our backs are hurting, can you help us out?’ and he doesn’t want to help us out.”

When reached for comment, Fiorentini disputed Carroll’s claims about firefighter salaries, telling WHAV the department received one to two percentage increases each year since 2007. He also said the department had full access to the city’s grant writer and that she offered classes for his team to attend.

Fiorentini told WHAV the grant Carroll referenced was not submitted because he does not authorize grants when he believes staffing is at an adequate level.

Reflecting on the situation with Nutter, Fiorentini called Carroll’s claims “election year babble” and held firm in his stance on civilian dispatch. “The only way to improve public safety is if we have firefighters at the scene, at the stations and fighting fires, not answering phones,” he said.

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