What's Working Somewhere: The Carver Fire Department

Deborah Parker reviews why the Carver, MA, Fire Department is able to recruit and retain its call members.


A Massachusetts Call Department Is Turning Away Applicants. What's Going On? Fire Chief Craig Weston needs five more firefighters to meet his personnel requirements in Carver, MA. The chief's biggest problem, however, is that he needs only five more call firefighters right now -- and 23 men and...


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A Massachusetts Call Department Is Turning Away Applicants. What's Going On?

Fire Chief Craig Weston needs five more firefighters to meet his personnel requirements in Carver, MA. The chief's biggest problem, however, is that he needs only five more call firefighters right now -- and 23 men and women have applied for the jobs.

Same thing happened last year. That's right. The all-call Carver Fire Department, with its three little stations covering 40 square miles and 12,000 people, has to turn away an average of 20 well-intended, able-bodied and ready-to-serve members of the community who come looking for these highly demanding, sometimes dangerous and very definitely low-paying jobs. Every year. It's a "problem" most other departments in the call-volunteer fire service would gladly bemoan. It also begs the question: Why?

Dana Harriman, Weston's predecessor -- Harriman was chief for 26 years, Weston assumed command in 2005, after 17 years with the department -- beams when asked the question, and then answers: "Let's see if we can get you on Craig Weston's e-mail recipient list, and start you there."

Within hours comes the e-mail letter that Weston sends out to all of Carver's firefighters on Fridays. It has all the makings of a long chatty letter home (back in the days when people wrote long letters home). There's a loving jab at Harriman. There's a photo taken of firefighters at an auto accident they responded to earlier in the week. Several responders on the call are named and complimented. There's an update: the victim survived. And then there's a reference to a sad call from the week before, when there was nothing they could do to improve that outcome...

There's a rundown of which repairs are being done to what vehicles, what's in service, what's not, and oh, yes, a report on which officers went to the plant to spec the plans for construction of the department's new rescue boat. And, for the big news, there will be a Surprise Deputy's Drill next Sunday! "Sorry for the short notice, but yesterday someone gave us an abandoned house to practice on, and we only have it a week before it gets razed. The firefighters will meet at 8 o'clock at the Central Station for the pre-drill meeting. The drill will last three hours, and they will be practicing opening roofs, going through walls from the outside of a building to rescue a firefighter trapped behind a wall, and going through walls from the inside, practicing rescuing themselves after a collapse...Come prepared to carpool." The next day comes another e-mail, looking for a portable radio missing from Rescue 1. "Will everyone please look around?"

Weston's newsletter goes out to each firefighter's e-mail account at the station (they each have one) as well as to the Carver selectmen, some of the fire officers in local towns and anyone else who wants it. It may explain why, at 9 o'clock on a brisk Sunday morning in late October, there are selectmen and officers from other fire departments stopping by the drill to enjoy watching Carver chop apart the donated house.

The letter makes sure everybody always knows exactly what's coming up, what's expected, how the department is performing, the outcome of their efforts -- and that every mother and father, spouse, significant other, child and town official, has reason to be proud. (It also has them all looking for that portable radio.) The e-mail letter takes Weston less than an hour a week.

This sentiment of community ownership of the department -- and the amazing response to its once-a-year invitation for citizens to even try to become one of Carver's finest, if they can -- has not always been the case. When Dana Harriman took command in 1979, he had exactly 12 sets of turnout gear for 40 firefighters, and, despite the fact that the fire department was well thought of in town, he had firefighters on the rolls who didn't show up, firefighters who lacked standardized training, and firefighters who got fed up with the other ones and left.

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