Published in the March 20, 2017 edition.
By MARK SARDELLA
WAKEFIELD — The town wants to create a new position to coordinate emergency management for the community. The part-time position of Emergency Management Director would pay $40,000 a year and answer to Town Administrator Stephen P. Maio.
The Board of Selectmen favored the new position at their meeting last week. The discussion took place as the FY 2018 Emergency Management budget was presented for the board’s review. Selectman Phyllis Hull was the lone dissenting voice, feeling that the position should be handled by existing personnel.
Town Accountant Kevin Gill presented the financial request for next year’s $73,000 Emergency Management budget, which he said was increased by $41,528 over last year. Of that increase, $40,000 would go to fund the salary of an Emergency management Director. The selectmen approved the budget, but it must still go before Town Meeting for a vote.
Maio reminded the board that the that the town has invested funds to upgrade and equip the Community Room at the Public Safety Building to serve as the town’s Emergency Operations Center.
Now, he maintained, the town needs to staff a position that is solely focused on emergency management. For the past several decades, that function has been performed by the Fire Chief in addition to his regular duties.
Maio pointed to the gasoline tanker rollover on Route 128 in Wakefield that happened just after midnight on Sunday, March 12. He said that there could have been a major spill of gasoline, oil or liquid nitrogen.
Maio argued that the town needs someone to oversee the acquisition of materials, to continually upgrade the town’s Emergency Management Plan and to seek grants in addition to the coordination resources during an actual emergency.
He said that both Fire Chief Michael Sullivan and Police Chief Rick Smith have asked for this position to be created. Both Chief Sullivan and Chief Smith were present at last week’s meeting.
“It’s a lot to ask of any department head to run his own department and take on emergency management,” said Sullivan, who has been handling the job for a number of years.
Smith argued that the position was “not a luxury. This is a need.” Smith also pointed to the gasoline tanker rollover and pointed to a similar incident on Route 1 in Saugus recently that resulted in an explosion. He noted that there was 11,000 gallons of gasoline on the truck that turned over in Wakefield last week and the tank was leaking.
“The chief (Sullivan) and I don’t have time to do this,” Smith said. He said that the town needs someone to coordinate efforts and serve as a liaison to other town departments and to the Federal Emergency management Administration (FEMA) and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Administration (MEMA). He maintained that Wakefield is one of the few towns that does not have an Emergency Management Director.
Smith cited a variety of potential emergency situations including blizzards, hurricanes, floods, large fires, prolonged heat waves, chemical and biological leaks, flu outbreaks and railroad accidents involving fuel spills.
He called creating the new position “good fiscal management. We have no one on the Police Department or Fire Department staff who can handle this,” Smith insisted.
Chief Smith pointed out that all fuel tankers running north and south have to use Route 128 because they can’t go through Boston due to the tunnels. Many of them come through the Wakefield portion of the highway.
Smith said that the question has been raised about regionalizing the Emergency Management position. But he disagreed with that approach.
“Nobody can serve two masters,” he said. When Wakefield needs emergency services immediately, he insisted, it shouldn’t have to wait while another town is being served.
Smith also pointed out that when an emergency strikes, he and Chief Sullivan are going to be on the scene of the event. They can’t, he argued, also be in the command post coordinating efforts.
But Selectman Hull was not convinced.
“For years we’ve had these emergencies and the Police and Fire Departments have taken care of it,” she said. She argued that there should be someone currently on the Police of Fire Department staffs that could take on this function.
“I don’t think we need to hire another person for another $40,000,” Hull insisted.
Selectman Tony Longo disagreed with Hull. “It’s a changing world,” he said, adding that he supported creating the new position.
Selectman Ann Santos also favored adding the job. She said that $40,000 was reasonable to have a point person for emergency management.
Selectman Peter May also supported the position.
“If one person dies,” May said, “people will say, ‘Why didn’t you spend the money?’”
Board of Selectmen chairman Patrick Glynn wanted to know exactly what the Director of Emergency Management’s duties would be.
Maio said that it would include getting grants for the town and making sure the town’s preparedness is up to date.
Smith added that the director would also put together policies and procedures so that everyone knows all of the assets that are available in an emergency. Ensuring that everyone is properly trained would also be a function of the job.
Failing to do all of those things would subject the town to potential liability, Smith said. He also talked about post-disaster reimbursement. Knowing what the town is eligible to receive from FEMA and MEMA and knowing how to go about applying for and receiving those funds is an important function and should be someone’s specific job, he argued.
Hull wanted to know why creating this position was suddenly so critical now, when it was not five or 10 years ago.
Maio replied that it has been a need for some time. “But we weren’t in a financial position to do it and we didn’t have the Emergency operations Center set up.
The board approved the $73,000 Emergency Management budget, with Hull opposed. The budget along with all FY 2018 departmental budgets will go before Annual Town Meeting on May 1.