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Worcester Fire Department 90-Day Progress Report on Reform

By Tom Marino | April 7, 2022
Last Updated: April 7, 2022

In March 2020, the City of Worcester contracted with Emergency Services Consulting International (ESCI) to research and construct a Fire Department Master Plan “to identify the operational and cultural elements within the Worcester Fire Department that led to nine line of duty deaths since 1999 and to create a plan to prevent such events from occurring again.”

In September 2021, City Manager Ed Augustus’ office released that report to the City Council and the public. The entire report is 222 pages, with recommendations included over 25 pages.

In October, 60 members of the Worcester Fire Department developed the Worcester Fire Department Strategic Plan. The Strategic Plan was developed as a collaboration between firefighters of various ranks, city and fire department administration, and the leadership of the local firefighters union, Firefighters Local 1009.

The initiatives of the department’s Strategic Plan mirrored the opportunities identified in the ESCI report.

On Tuesday, April 5, Augustus released a 90-day Strategic Plan Progress Report. written by Acting Fire Chief Martin Dyer. In it, Dyer provides an update on each initiative of the Strategic Plan.

Below are selected details from each initiative Dyer addresses in his update, followed by details from the ESCI report’s summary of opportunities within the Worcester Fire Department.

If you would like to review the documents yourself, the update from Acting Chief Dyer and the summary of opportunities from the ESCI report can be downloaded here (.pdf, 10 pages).

The full ESCI report is available here (.pdf, 258 pages).

Initiative 1: Leadership

Dyer writes, related to the ESCI recommendations on leadership:

“They recommended hiring a commissioner from outside the department and for them to be embedded in the Office of the City Manager until a qualified candidate from within the organization is chosen for full time Fire Chief. The objective was an immediate change to the fire department leadership with a change agent in charge of stabilizing the department working at the direction of the City Manager. Since commissioning the study, the leadership team has changed.”

The ESCI report section on leadership includes the following:

  • “It is ESCI’s strong recommendation that the Worcester Fire Department create a temporary Assistant City Manager or Fire Commissioner position that is specifically tasked with overseeing all Fire Service Operations.”
  • “ESCI further suggests that when the current Fire Chief retires, the Fire Chief Position remains vacant, and the Assistant City Manager or Fire Commissioner of Fire Service Operations be named interim Fire Chief until such time that there is a qualified candidate for Fire Chief within the Worcester Fire Department.”
  • “The ideal candidate for the temporary position of Assistant City Manager or Fire Commissioner tasked with overseeing all Fire Service Operations would be an experienced Fire Chief with a proven track record as a change agent.”

Former Fire Chief Michael Lavoie retired in January. Acting Fire Chief Dyer was previously a Deputy Chief of the Worcester Fire Department before being promoted to Acting Chief.

Initiative 2: Communications Network

Dyer reports that “the City is currently in the final stages of the selection process for a new CAD/RMS software system that will address many of the internal communication objectives in this initiative.”

He also says multiple communication mediums are being investigated, including:

  • Weekly Bulletin
  • Consideration of a daily or weekly recorded roll-call
  • Increased chiefs meetings to spread communication

The ESCI recommendation was:

“Communication is a major deficiency within the Worcester Fire Department. It is imperative that a Fire Department Communication Plan be designed and implemented. The plan must identify the information to be shared with various and specific ranks of personnel within the department and by what means.”

Initiative 3: Chain of Command

Dyer writes that “the creation of a chain-of-command guideline and evaluation of the “open door” policy was a key recommendation in the master plan, and became an initiative in the Strategic Plan. A chain-of- command guideline is written, instituted and enforced.”

ESCI wrote that while the open door policy “could be viewed as an effort to improve communications, special attention must be given to make sure that this policy does not lead to Chain
of Command violations and opportunities to undercut company officers.”

Initiative 4: Standard Operating Procedure

“Thousands of documents currently exist that are in contradiction with each other, do not meet industry standards or best practices, or are simply outdated,” says Dyer. “The department has contracted with Lexipol, a resource management system that provides customizable, state specific policies, which are continuously evaluated, and updated to meet industry standards and
best practices.”

In its report, ESCI said it’s “review of Worcester’s Rules and Regulations and its Guidelines revealed a series of sections in both documents that are outdated, not in compliance with industry standards or best practices, and in direct conflict with other current Worcester Fire Department Rules and Regulations, Guidelines, or current practices.”

Initiative 5: Training

With a dual focus on training recruits and current fire department staff, Dyer reports that the department conducted over 400 live burn sessions in 2021, with tremendous progress. He also said, “It is imperative that the structure is in place to continue this training, while also conducting recruit classes.”

He also added:

  • An annual training calendar has been developed and is currently being evaluated.
  • Recruit training has started for the first of three planned recruit academies to rebuild our firefighting force.
  • Proficiency training is continuing with the addition of two more live burn programs along with multiple other proficiency training programs that are necessary to maintain our skills.

ECSI called it a disservice to the entire department that while “conducting an initial firefighter recruit program, incumbent firefighter training is suspended.” Its recommendations said:

“Immediate steps should be taken to add personnel to the Training Division to allow for simultaneous training of both incumbent and recruit firefighters or, alternatively, the Worcester Fire Department should consider outsourcing the training of recruit firefighters to the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy to allow the Worcester Training Division to focus its resources on incumbent firefighter training.”

Initiative 6: Promotional Process including Professional Development

Dyer writes that professional development opportunities are being identified and the ability to attend outside training and seminars are open to department personnel. Outside industry experts also conducted department wide training.

The Department is also implementing a digital training platform that will allow accredited professional development training and certification tracking.

ESCI found that a majority opinion of department personnel was “that members were promoting too early with a lack of adequate experience.” Personnel also reported that those promoted were soon acting in a higher position, noting a Captain acting as District Chief soon after promotion to Captain.

The report recommended:

“The Worcester Fire Department must establish minimum criteria to determine time in grade, education, certification, competency, and professional development requirements for each position prior to allowing any individual to promote or work out of class in a temporary assignment. This could be accomplished through internal training requirements, an assessment center, or a combination thereof.”

Initiative 7: Recruitment, Application, and Hiring Process

Dyer notes that Worcester is bound by civil service law and adheres to strict candidate investigation and training standards. The department is evaluating processes to increase participation of underrepresented communities in the civil service process and developing an introduction to the fire service program to provide a one-week boot camp, first offered this summer, for local high school and college students.

ESCI wrote:

“The Worcester Fire Department should customize the Civil Service process to better assess an applicant’s candidacy for the specific position of Worcester firefighter instead of using the current generic process. Adding additional requirements can bolster candidate selection and better match the needs of the Worcester Fire Department.”

Initiative 8: Operational Staffing

The Worcester Fire Department has received funding allocation to increase its operational staff from 409 to 452. Dyer reports the process will take two years, running consecutive training for at least 18 months. That process began February 28.

Dyer writes that during the recent COVID-19 surge, the department was operating in a containment protocol that prohibited sending personnel to other stations to augment staffing needs. That policy kept personnel with teams and equipment they are familiar with. “This level of crew integrity and operational leadership adds levels of accountability, responsibility, safety and
professionalism, which should continue as a standard for the Worcester Fire Department.”

The ESCI report said that augmenting staffing needs by sending firefighters to other stations was a regularly required practice and the department should strive to maintain 75 percent crew integrity.

Initiative 9: Support Services Staffing

Descriptions for all administrative positions have been written written, according to Dyer. “These descriptions along with a gap analysis will serve as a basis for recommendations on the expansion of those divisions.”  Dyer acknowledged that the ECI report said all support services divisions are understaffed.

ESCI recommendations on support services staffing were:

“All of the Support Services Divisions—Training, Fire Prevention, and Maintenance—are understaffed and will require additional personnel in order to satisfy their core missions. Additionally, fire department management must have the ability to select and retain qualified personnel in these divisions to ensure continuity of operations and allow for succession planning.”

Initiative 10: Emergency Response Deployment

Dyer says the fire department must grow with the steady growth of the city and the integration of the CAD/RMS system (see initiative 2) will be a driving force in achieving several goals under initiative 10.

“An internal evaluation of the stations has been conducted with several deficiencies at all stations being noted. We are currently working with the Department of Public Facilities on a holistic evaluation of all Worcester Fire Department buildings.”

The ESCI report suggested the department should give new consideration to several aspects of emergency response deployment, including whether:

  • The City has the appropriate number of fire stations in the appropriate places;
  • The design of those fire stations facilitates efficient firefighter response, the geographical response districts, and workloads of each crew;
  • Or not the appropriate type and number of resources are being sent to the various types of calls to which the department responds.

The report added:

“The Worcester Fire Department should use the updated Community Risk Assessment to prepare standard response protocols inherent to the community. The protocols should delineate the number and type of crews and the total number of firefighters to be deployed for each response based on the risk event to which they are responding.”


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