Of all the myriad roles conferred upon Foxboro fire and rescue in recent years, serving as a profit center was doubtless the most improbable.
But by ferreting out new revenue opportunities and tempering further reliance on local taxpayers, Fire Chief Michael Kelleher has helped expand the scope and scale of services without busting the budget.
At least that was the essence of a comprehensive “year in review” presentation delivered to selectmen last week, during which Kelleher’s leadership team framed their successes against a series of broad directives laid out by Town Manager William Keegan.
In addition to seeking alternative revenue sources, Keegan had called on town department heads to promote dialog and cooperation between public and private sectors, support the new regional 911 program, enhance customer service, and utilize federal stimulus funds whenever possible to address capital infrastructure needs.
Although the fire department has made progress in many of these areas, Kelleher suggested that it has been more successful than most at finding ways to make money.
Most notable in this regard has been the use of in-house resources to repair and maintain vehicles and emergency apparatus for three neighboring fire departments. But strides also have been made to maximize an increasingly lucrative ambulance service, rent space on the department’s communication tower to telecom providers and doggedly pursue FEMA reimbursements.
According to Kelleher, the department’s growth in ambulance receipts reflects not just an increase in run volume, but also by leaving no stone unturned when it comes to insurance reimbursements.
“If we need to fill out reports or deal with the federal government to get more Medicaid funding, we do that,” he told selectmen.
Kelleher also said the department has explored public/private partnerships like an arrangement to help staff the former COVID vaccine site at Gillette Stadium.
“They needed people to help with the vaccine so we were hiring firefighters from around the area, just like we would for a detail at Gillette Stadium,” he said of last spring’s collaboration with Transformative Healthcare (formerly Fallon Ambulance).
For its efforts, Foxboro received a 10-percent administrative fee.
“We billed almost a million dollars so we got about $100,000 in administrative fees back,” he explained.
Highlighting yet another challenge, Kelleher said the department has struggled since Norwood Hospital closed after being damaged by severe flooding in June 2020. The result, he said, has been longer, more time-consuming transport runs for emergency care.
“People didn’t stop going to the hospital when Norwood closed, they just go to other hospitals,” he said. From Foxboro, this typically means, Sturdy Memorial in Attleboro, Morton Hospital in Taunton, Good Samaritan in Brockton or Beth Israel/Deaconess in Needham.
“These hospitals are over-saturated, compounded by the COVID crisis,” and further compounded by a lack of psychiatric beds, he said. “It’s really putting pressure on healthcare.”
Deputy Chief Thomas Kevin, who oversees emergency medical services and doubles as the town’s public health nurse, emphasized further the additional burdens shouldered by fire & rescue personnel over the past year.
“The closing of Norwood Hospital and the occurrences associated with the pandemic have really stressed our providers in terms of delivering care and transporting our patients,” he said, adding the department provided 1,877 ambulance transports in 2021 — roughly two-thirds of them involving advanced life support.
Even under these circumstances, however, Kenvin said the department has boosted its level of service to local residents, citing a new partnership with Sturdy Hospital to provide in-home monoclonal antibody infusions.
In addition, Kenvin said that Foxboro in January will begin deploying automatic mechanical ventilators (purchased with federal Cares Act dollars) to provide respiratory support to appropriate patients, and has already launched an app-based pediatric resuscitation program.
In both these areas, Kenvin said the department has worked closely with the Council on Aging and Human Services to coordinate community outreach and home visits, as well as administering over 1,200 Moderna vaccines and 300 flu shots locally.
“It’s been a phenomenal partnership and we are working closely with them to attend to the multiple needs of our patients who have social services demands,” he said.
Assistant Chief Thomas Buckley, who is steering efforts to help the department qualify for national accreditation, told selectmen that the town’s would be the first municipal department in Massachusetts to secure that goal, if successful.
“Not everything we do is perfect but we’re always looking to improve in the way we deliver services,” he said.
According to Buckley, Gillette Stadium hosted 41 events requiring fire department resources over the past year, adding that management hopes to increase that number significantly in 2022.
Also weighing in, Deputy Chief David Laracy explained how the department has worked to streamline permitting to assist a business community already struggling with pandemic-related clampdowns.
“Our mission this year was pretty much to help businesses and contractors survive in this economy,” he said.
Having thus gained the collective ears of selectmen, Kelleher seized the opportunity, just days before Christmas, to advocate for his own departmental wish list.
Specifically, the chief advised selectmen consider acquiring a fourth ambulance to be a dedicated ambulance for town responses and boosting staffing levels to address an industry shortage of paramedics and EMTs.
He also renewed calls for a new substation, which presumably would be located on land along Commercial Street between the Foxboro Shell station and Walnut Pond.
“We really need to consider that as the town grows,” he said, backing up his request with pertinent statistics.
Population-wise, Foxboro is the smallest of the four towns involved in the new regional 911 consortium which includes Mansfield, Easton and Norton, and currently has the leanest fire/rescue budget at $4.43 million. It also is the only community with a lone fire station to cover 20.9 square miles of territory.
In making the case for additional resources, Kelleher said a typical shift is now staffed with eight firefighters — a shift captain and lieutenant with six firefighters, also lowest among the above-mentioned communities — and averages 10 runs per day.
But looking to the bright side, Kelleher concluded by saying that Foxboro Fire & Rescue is the only area fire department with a workforce that is fully vaccinated.
“That just doesn’t happen,” he said. “We have mutual trust and I think our people really saw the value in being vaccinated, especially as first responders.”
Kelleher added that department personnel are multi-faceted, and routinely pivot from firefighting to emergency medical services to public health.
“We’re looking for ways to innovate in our industry and bring better service to the citizens of Foxboro,” he concluded.