Fire chief admits he erred on coverage

BROOKLINE – The state fire marshal’s office says the town’s two elementary schools don’t need sprinklers, and the schools aren’t required to hire two paid firefighters to stand watch inside the school buildings when the crowd numbers more than 299 people.

This wasn’t clear to Fire Chief Charles Corey when he went to the Board of Selectmen several months ago to set a rate for two special duty firefighters to monitor school events of more than 250 people.

“What this is, is a Band-Aid until they get sprinklers,” Corey told the board previously.

After, selectmen agreed to pay each special duty firefighter $42 an hour to monitor schoolwide assemblies and other events that draw a large crowd.

Last Monday, during the regular weekly Board of Selectmen’s meeting, Corey told the board he made a mistake.

The chief’s explanation offered little relief to the School Board, recipient in recent weeks of more than $1,000 in unanticipated bills from the Fire Department for the special duty assignments.

Indeed, the School Board, which pared its budget to the bone in March during the annual School District Meeting, has repeatedly said its operating margin is so thin it cannot afford even the smallest extras.

At the Monday meeting, David Partridge, the School Board chairman, asked town and fire officials to consider negotiating the $1,000-plus bill.

“Let’s wait and see if there’s a surplus,” offered selectmen’s Chairwoman Linda Saari, directing the board to hold onto the bill until the books are closed on the current budget year.

Members of the School Board also complained that they were never consulted before the special duty officers were assigned.

Had the School Board been given an opportunity to discuss the situation, several members told the selectmen they would have sought a less expensive solution that also met state fire safety standards: Training school staff to serve as “crowd managers.”

To avoid future misunderstandings, selectmen asked the fire chief to provide a “cheat sheet” that outlines the main points of the state fire code.

However, Corey and his deputy, Scott Knowles, told the board that state fire code laws are too complicated to break down into nuggets.