Summary of Poquonnock Bridge Fire District Problems
by Ed Johnson
Lately, as most of us living in Groton are aware, there have been a series of issues pertaining to the method utilized by some of the PBF District board members in supervising the operations of their Fire Department itself. Here is a summary of what we have all observed for the past several months, some of which seems to involve the actions of Mr. Alan Ackley, a PB resident and local business owner.
1) There is an ongoing problem with PBFD Ladder Truck #35 having been placed out of service for the past 16 months with major maintenance problems. Apparently, no decision has yet been made to repair or replace this apparatus. Instead, the PBFD has been utilizing the services and manpower of the Groton City FD and their ladder truck for many calls in PBFD territory. Yet, up until now, no retroactive compensation for this usage has been made to Groton City, despite their requests to the PBF District, which had gone unanswered as late as last week. This has forced GCFD to restrict access to their ladder truck except for bona fide mutual aid responses.
2) The above action has placed the residents and businesses of PB where they could be negatively affected by the loss of a ladder truck because of a rating downgrade by the Insurance Services Office. In short, local insurance rates might go up. In addition, there is a safety factor, as ladder trucks help to fight fires and rescue people trapped in multi-story buildings. And a delay because of a wait for a ladder truck to drive over from another fire district creates more of a safety issue, in addition to depriving the GCFD of a valuable apparatus for their own use.
3) In addition, PBFD Pumper # 33 has received a great deal of use and has now become prone to frequent breakdowns. Thus far, this unit is apparently not yet scheduled for replacement.
4) Over the years, when Mr. Ackley was Chairman of the PBF District, his relationship with the PBFD Union had deteriorated. This came to a head last year when Mr. Ackley was publicly voted off the Board, during which time he also approached the Groton Town Council, pressing for the consolidation of all Groton area fire departments. It appeared that he was trying to turn over PBFD operations directly to the Town. The PBF District pays a higher fire district tax than any other Groton fire district. However the basic Town tax rate itself is lower for PB than for other districts.
5) Subsequently, Mr. Ackley managed to effect a PBF District Bylaw change which then made it possible to get himself and some loyal followers voted back onto the board. Since that time he has apparently been trying to cut costs wherever possible. This process has also contributed to poor relations...again... with the Fireman's labor union, and there is already a union grievance being reviewed on March 14th by the Board, according to the agenda.
6) Meanwhile, per a media report, the Board has attempted to eliminate all public education programs in the PB district's schools. So, no more "stop, drop and roll" lifesaving techniques would be available for the kids, among other things. This is apparently going to be discussed with the Groton BOE before further action is taken.
7) There is another item on the district "chopping block" which directly affects life safety and communications. For many years, the PBFD has maintained the Groton Fire Alarm notification system in the entire town and has been paid for this service by other fire districts. This system reports supervised signals over a dedicated alarm circuit directly to Groton Dispatch Center and is connected to the manual pull boxes that many of us observe in our schools, libraries, neighborhoods, public buildings and larger structures. It is the most reliable backup system we have because it is electrically supervised, notifies the dispatch center directly and can usually operate when normal telephone and cell phone service ceases to function. The concept is that If you need help, and yank a manual pull box, you will quickly receive the police, an ambulance and a fire truck. By comparison, companies and residences utilizing out-of-state "central station" remote monitoring of alarms may be subject to delays or no service during storms.
7) Yet another PBFD service that might be affected is the response by Firefighter/EMTs on a fire apparatus to local medical calls in the PB district. This directly affects life safety and needs much more discussion, in view of the 1989-1990 evaluation survey of Emergency Medical Services conducted by the Town. The final report from the survey included a strong recommendation that a proper and efficient "first responder" program was a key factor in saving lives, prior to the arrival of an ambulance and paramedic at the scene.
8) In reviewing all of the above, one might get the impression that the PBF District is practically bankrupt and/or perhaps wallowing in debt. However, this does not appear to be the case at all, as there is apparently a sum in excess of $750,000 held in reserve by the District for purchasing new apparatus and equipment. In addition, in February, the PBFDistrict Board voted to purchase a $49,000 vehicle in Torrington, CT and is finally making a payment of $50,000 to Groton Utilities for Hydrant system Maintenance.
To eliminate vital services outright would seem to indicate a philosophy of "money over safety" on the part of the Board and especially Alan Ackley, which should be cause for concern. A review of the minutes and recording of the PBFDistrict Board meeting of 02/14/13 reinforces this observation.
PB has a well trained, well respected and well qualified firefighting service. It would be shame to see the department deteriorate because someone decided to cut budgets with a chain saw.
Under the circumstances, the residents and businesses in the PB fire district need to attend the District meeting on Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 7:00 PM EDT at the Poquonnock Bridge Fire Station and voice their opinions.