Police and fire officials are thrilled with outcome

Friday, May 22, 2009
By Cary Shuman

By Joseph Domelowicz Jr.

For the Transcript

For Winthrop Fire Chief Paul Flanagan and Police Lieutenant-Executive Officer Terry Delehanty, the passage of override questions for services provided by their public safety departments was both needed at a difficult time and evidence of the town’s support.

“It’s a big day for the town of Winthrop,” said Chief Flanagan. “Earlier in the day, we really thought that if five of the 10 questions had passed, we would’ve considered that a victory. To have eight of the questions pass was really something.

“I took over the fire department 14 months ago, and it has been one of the most difficult [economic] times for the town and the state,” Flanagan added. “But going into the last month of the fiscal year, more than two-thirds of our department has perfect attendance and everyone has just been working very hard to do the best they can. That vote, was a vote of confidence in us and what we’ve been doing, and people should know that it is appreciated.”

Police Lieutenant-Executive Officer Terry Delehanty was also pleased.”To be honest, I never expected to be in this position. I was hopeful, but I didn’t expect [the override] to do this well. The support shown to our departments by the people of the town, and to all of the other departments, it’s really very much appreciated by the officers in the department.”

In total, the two questions concerning fire and police service accounted for a little more than $224,000. However, the impact of those dollars will result in two additional police officers and two additional firefighters, effective July 1.

“My hope will be to bring back at least a dedicated drug detective, someone to look at the increase in drug overdoses and drug activity, and the other officer will probably be a shift officer,” said Delehanty.

Both positions will replace officers who were laid off earlier this year. The inclusion of a new drug detective, according to Delehanty, will be coordinated between Delehanty and Lieutenant Detective Brian Perrin. The additional shift officer will also benefit the department’s detective bureau, since Winthrop detectives have spent most of their time to offset the shortage of manpower on shift patrols, and enable Delehanty to avoid burning through the department’s overtime allotment.

“I really can’t say enough about the officers and detectives that have helped the department through this bad economic time,” said Delehanty. “The detectives have been spending about 85 percent of their time covering shift and patrol work, so that we could get by using as little overtime as possible. All of the officers in the department really made a commitment to maintain the best level of service we could with the officers we had available.”

Meanwhile, Flanagan noted that the town’s fire services have been taxed since last July 1, when two vacancies were left unfilled to help the town deal with the economic pinch. When former Fire Chief Larry Powers left for the Massport Fire Department, the opening created by various promotions was left unfilled. When another firefighter relocated to Texas, that position was also left vacant.

“Unfortunately, that meant that two of four shifts went down to seven men, so whenever someone was out sick or on a vacation day from one of those two shifts, we had to hire on overtime to make sure that we maintained the minimum staffing level of seven firefighters per shift,” said Flanagan.

Voters’ decision to support an additional $88,700 in new taxes to fund the fire department means the fire department can return to four, eight-man shifts, and reduce the need for overtime.

“Another thing that we’ve had to contend with is the effect the economy has had on our neighboring communities,” added Flanagan. “Revere, for instance, is staffed so low right now that they are not able to maintain the mutual aid response. As a result, we are being called upon more often to respond to mutual aid requests in other towns, and our mutual aid needs are being filled by towns further away. We’ve really been left in a very dangerous position because of this, and the additional firefighters will really help make us safer in general.”

Both Flanagan and Delehanty noted that firefighters will be hired as soon as possible to fill the new, or renewed positions. However, the hiring process may inhibit filling those positions right away.

In the police department, the two officers who were laid off last year will have the right to return to the department, if they choose to. If they decline that option, it will be up to the new town manager to decide if the positions will be filled from the ranks of the town’s reserve officers or by hiring from the state’s laid off list.

“In either case, we’re going to get very qualified people into those positions,” said Delehanty.

“In the fire department, since there was no one actually laid off, it may be harder to hire new firefighters from outside.

“There are a lot of laid off firefighters on the state list,” said Flanagan. “But the trick is going to be finding the ones that want to come to Winthrop to work, especially if they are hoping to get back on, in their old departments. It may take a while to fill those positions.”

But the good news is that filling those positions is now an option, thanks to voters.

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