Chief: Increased calls leave No. Smithfield fire services short-handed

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NORTH SMITHFIELD – With a growing population and an ever increasing number of calls for service, Fire Chief David Chartier warned town officials this week, North Smithfield needs to develop a new long-term plan to meet the needs of its population.

The chief laid out the numbers: the department answered 1,798 calls in 2015, jumping to 1,921 in 2016. The number increased again in 2017 to 1,974 and in 2018, to 2,043.

And in 2019, Chartier projected the number will increase by about another 150.

“That increase is pretty dramatic from my perspective,”Chartier told members of the Town Council at a meeting Monday, Nov. 18. “I think it’s time we take a look at these numbers and how it’s going to affect us down the road.”

The chief noted that North Smithfield Fire & Rescue has five staff members on every shift.

“Reality is, if we have one call, we’re out of business,” he said.

That leaves the town dependent on mutual aid from surrounding communities, which slows response times. It also results in funds from the runs being diverted to other districts.

North Smithfield does answer other communities’ calls for help as well, responding 124 times so far in 2019. But the town requested help from surrounding fire departments some 253 times.

Chartier estimated that since 2015, the town’s net loss for mutual aid was $163,800.

There’s also a cost in time, and when it comes to medical calls, the chief noted that every minute counts.

“That’s a real problem,” Chartier said.

Chartier noted that while his department’s average response time for an in-town call is between five and six minutes, a response from Woonsocket takes between eight and nine.

The chief said that he’s concerned the new apartment complex at Dowling Village could stretch the department even further.

“Walmart seems to be our biggest customer, quite frankly,” Chartier said.

“The time goes up in responding,” said Town Councilor Paul Zwolenski. “I have a real concern about that.” 

Chartier said he has an idea of what needs to be done to address the issue, but it will need to be discussed more formally.

“At some point we have to sit down and we have to take a look at what the options are,” he said.

Town officials said they will schedule a meeting between the chief, the town administrator and the public safety committee.

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