Firefighters protest New Bedford mayor’s inauguration over blackout policy
By: Ellie Romano
NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WLNE) – Firefighters in New Bedford protested the mayor’s inauguration Monday night over the city’s longstanding blackout policy.
Fire station blackouts have been in effect since 2009 when the former mayor, Scott Lang, initiated the policy as a way to try and save money during the Great Recession. Through the policy, a different station is closed, or “blacked out”, for a 24-hour period to cut back on staffing, therefore reducing costs.
“We were in a fiscal apocalypse then. [Mayor Lang] had no choice,” said Arthur Mello, of New Bedford Firefighters Local 841.
However, now that the economy is in a better position, firefighters like Mello want to get rid of the blackouts.
“The economy has changed, it’s grown. But as it’s grown, Mayor Mitchell has chosen to not only continue the blackouts, but to double down on them,” said Mello.
He said under Mayor Mitchell, blackouts expanded from a 12-hour period to a 24-hour period.
He and other firefighters protesting outside the inauguration ceremony say the blackouts dangerous. They point out that in the last three months, two people have died in house fire that happened in areas where the closest station was blacked out at the time.
“We’ve rolled the dice for several years now,” said firefighter Derek Dacosta. “If we had a full [staff] running every single day we definitely would get to houses that much quicker.”
Following Mayor Jon Mitchell’s inaugural address, he commented on the blackouts and said the blackouts will end next year when the new South End Public Safety Complex opens.
“There’s no doubt that it’s an inconvenience for [the firefighters] to move from station to station,” said Mayor Mitchell. “But the chief has taken a look at our practice and says it has not compromised our response time.”
He said the new public safety complex will be the first new fire station in the city in 60 years.