The Burlington Board of Selectmen voted 4-0 (Chair Walter Zenkin being absent) on Monday night to enter into the Statewide Public Safety Mutual Aid and the Public Works Municipal Mutual Aid laws at the recommendation of Police Chief Michael Kent, Fire Chief Steven Yetman and Public Works Superintendent John Sanchez.
The three department heads prepared a letter for the board and Town Administrator Robert Mercier that encouraged the administration to agree to entering into the state-wide agreement.
"After reviewing of the ... letter from Kurt N. Schwarz, MEMA Undersecretary for Homeland Security & Emergency Management Director in which he urges all cities and town in the commonwealth to opt-in to these mutual aid statues, we strongly recommend that the town of Burlington opts-in both to the Statewide Public Safety Mutual Aid and the Public Works Municipal Mutual Aid," the letter read.
The Statewide Public Safety Mutual Aid is an agreement among fire and police departments in Massachusetts to lend aid, both in personnel and equipment, during emergencies. Both the Burlington police and fire department were already involved in smaller mutual aid organizations with area communities, but this would expand the sharing capacity of the departments to include any municipality in the state that opts into the programs.
"We have local agreements already with local cities and towns," Yetman explained to the board. :This expands it statewide for public safety."
The second agreement, the Statewide Public Safety Mutual Aid, is a new idea altogether. Sanchez said that in emergencies, he has called upon the aid of area towns, but those agreements were based on personal contacts he has with other DPW managers. Agreeing to this program, Sanchez said, would allow for more assured coordination during disasters.
"When emergencies happen, like a couple weeks ago with the snow, it’s nice to have people nearby," Sanchez said. "But when [local communities] are facing the same thing, its good to have a bigger pool we can draw from."
That point led to the one show of misgivings over entering into the agreement. Selectmen Ralph Patuto said his concern was that the town could be asked to help with emergencies responses in communities without the same expensive equipment Burlington possesses when the town is facing the same emergency, such as snow storms, hurricanes or other regional events.
"I just don’t see the benefit for this, at least with the police and fire departments that already have similar programs," he said. " If everyone joins in, it looks good or sounds good. I don’t know what equipment Chesterfield, for example, could roll into us, but we could roll some very nice equipment out to them."
Yetman said that if Burlington is in need of its own equipment, the DPW can refuse to send out resources if the town needs to take care of its own issues.
"If we are unavailable, we’re unavailable," he said.
Finally, Mercier explained that entering into the agreements would help protect the town when sending personnel and equipment to other municipalities. Right now, he said, the DPW engages in mutual aid, but the agreements are not official but these agreements offer liability protection from the state.
"This protects all communities involved," he explained. "If we send equipment to Billerica, for example, normally we are not protected if something happens to our equipment or people, but this would give us protection. I think that’s an important thing we need to think about."