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Published: July 15, 2008 05:47 pm ShareThisPrintThis
Over lieutenant's plea, town keeps pro fire staff at 3
By Mike Stucka
Staff writer

BOXFORD - Confronted with a 26-year Boxford Fire Department veteran's warning that "this is not a safe situation for me or the citizens of Boxford," selectmen last night accepted the fire chief's report that West Boxford fire protection was adequate.
Separately, selectmen voted unanimously to accept "with regret" the resignation of Lt. Robert Corthell, who wrote a June 19 resignation letter warning of worsening problems with fire protection in West Boxford. Corthell said on seven of eight daytime calls, he was the only on-call firefighter who manned the station's fire engine.
Corthell did not return a phone call seeking comment yesterday.
Click here to view Lt. Robert Corthell's resignation letter
Boxford fire Chief Kerry Stickney did not specifically discuss anything in Corthell's letter, but he said that staffing is adequate. After the latest round of training is finished, East Boxford will have 27 on-call firefighters and West Boxford will have 17, he said. In all, the town has three full-time employees in its Fire Department, all of them based at the East Boxford station. Stickney said the eastern station handles about two-thirds of the calls and covers most of the town's population.
Stickney said it isn't always easy to predict how many firefighters would answer their pages. They don't want to sit in a firetruck waiting for a fire call when they have a daytime job. Plenty of firefighters will arrive for house fires, but fewer call firefighters will show up to answer a fire alarm, he said.
"Depending on the call, depends who will show up," Stickney said.
The mostly on-call system is cheaper to operate than a paid department: Corthell made $6,017.42 last year as a firefighter, town records show.
In his letter, Corthell said that at least three firefighters should be on an engine, rather than him answering calls alone in western Boxford. Firefighters will respond from the eastern fire station, but, he wrote, "(T)ravel time being what it is, I would hate to be waiting for fire equipment from the east station to arrive for a major call in the west end.
"I have repeatedly addressed this problem at officer's meetings over the past two years and the situation continues to worsen."
Asked after their meeting about West Boxford fire protection, most selectmen declined to comment. Selectman Steve Davis said that if Stickney felt protection was OK, he feels it was OK, too.

Healthy debate
Selectmen spent much of last night's meeting debating an assistant for the health department.
Selectmen ultimately approved a 24-hour-a-week position, after the Board of Health requested 31 hours of help and some selectmen reportedly wanted no more than 18 hours because housing development is slowing down.
Selectmen temporarily lifted their hiring freeze for the clerical position.
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