Thursday, February 25, 2016

A Big Thank You to the Amherst Fire Department for Great Tour for My Humanitarian Logistics Class

This blogpost is being written to publicly thank the Amherst Fire Department and especially Chief Tim Nelson and Captain Jeff Olmstead and the EMTs for the wonderful tour of the North Amherst Fire Station this past Tuesday for my Humanitarian Logistics and Healthcare class. Our beautiful town of Amherst has two fire stations, one aging one downtown, and a newer one, but still decades old that is located on the corner of East Pleasant Street and Eastman Lane, a short trip down a hill to UMass Amherst, which is the one that we toured.

In teaching this class I host guest speakers since students need to hear from top practitioners. Having a field trip was extra special and kudos to the students who showed up bright and early at 8:30AM for the tour. Amazingly, during the 75 minute session there were no fire or ambulance calls!

We had an overview from the Chief and Captain with inputs from the EMTs. 
The nearest hospital is in Northampton which is a good 20 minute drive from UMass over a bridge. Technology has expedited the ambulance driving time since the EMTs can change the traffic lights but sometimes the sensors do not work correctly because of wind or snow.  The amazing work that our fire department does should be lauded. They have had only one new hire since 1976, but with a threefold increase in terms of annual calls, they clearly should be provided with more staff/support!

Citizens turn to them in the case of flooded basements, burst pipes, power outages, illnesses, and even having cats rescued from trees (which our neighbors did and that was a day to remember), not to mention ambulance calls and, of course,  fires, which happen in our community and at UMass. I remember fires caused by lit candles in a dormitory just a few years ago, for example. Our neighborhood has seen its share of ambulance runs as well.

The Amherst Fire Department also assists in calls and emergencies in several neighboring towns and is responsible for an area of about 125 square miles, if you include ambulance service.  They work in 24 hour shifts with one day off, one day on, and then five days off.

The esprit de corps and camaraderie that they have for one another was evident. One of the EMTs was saying how they make dinner in a crockpot so the team members can eat when they can. They work closely with the UMass Amherst and town police and were busy even last Monday when Bernie Sanders had a rally at the Mullins Center. We even got to hear about disaster communications and that if you call 911 on a cell phone, you will reach a dispatcher in Northampton. If you call via a landline phone and use Verizon you will get the Amherst dispatcher who is, of course, better informed about locations in the community, terms, etc. When one says "campus pond" in Amherst it is the UMass pond and when one hears of the Notch, which they have to rescue hikers from who get lost or enjoyed regularly, then the local dispatcher knows this location south of downtown Amherst.

We were told that the fire department plans "for the unplanned" and are engaging more in analytics. We got to meet the "Numbers Guy," who provided us with multiple tables and facts. UMass Amherst relies on them for preparing for a spectrum of special events, which can include anything from rock concerts to major student spring parties.

The fire department team members truly care about the citizens of our town and students and are responsible for saving lives every single day.

I thank them for the tremendous work that they do and for their selflessness. Many have to work an additional 33% to cover the needs because of staff shortages.Their emphasis on having multiple skills and being efficient and  responding to events and calls quickly resonated with the students and me since this is an Operations Management course. The Fire Chief has sometimes taken the fire truck for safety checks, just in case the fire truck would be needed for a call. It would be quicker to have the firetruck available than to have to drive back to the station and get it.

The Amherst Fire Department members are true Hometown Heroes and deserve more resources and support.

I am so grateful to Fire Chief Tim Nelson and to Captain Jeff Olmstead for taking the time out of their incredibly busy schedules to provide such valuable educational lessons for my students.

Plus, we even got to see the firetrucks - ladders only go up to about 7 stories and we do have some very tall buildings, especially our Tower Library at UMass. Sprinklers are essential and lifesavers we were told in such and many other buildings.