New Fire Chief elected

Mike Ernst succeeds retiring Peter Gempp
Thu, 01/17/2019 - 4:30pm

After five years at the head of the Block Island Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department, Peter Gempp has stepped down. Mike Ernst was elected Fire Chief at the department's monthly membership meeting on Monday, Jan. 14.

Ernst, who has previously served as a Fire Lieutenant, assumed the chair immediately after the election at the beginning of the meeting. He and all the other officers on the ballot were unopposed and elected unanimously.

In addition to Ernst, the members elected Bain Transue as Assistant Fire Chief and Tristan Payne as Fire Captain. Rescue Captain Kate McConville, Treasurer Mike Lofaro and Secretary Beth Rousseau, all incumbents, were re-elected.

Three members of the Department's Board of Directors were also elected. John Mott will serve a three-year term, Vin McAloon a two-year term, and John Jacobsen a one-year term on the board.

The meeting was well-attended, with several members who are Block Island School students in the room. “We want you here, this is how our department grows,” Gempp encouraged the youths, and Ernst agreed.

Pinkham to be Fire Marshal

Wayne Pinkham has been studying to become a municipal fire marshal, empowered to respond to fire alarm calls and to inspect the island's businesses to ensure compliance with the state's fire code.

“The test is on (Jan.) 22nd,” Pinkham told the members. Ernst, evidently confident Pinkham will pass the test, replied: “On the 23rd, you'll be responding” to alarm calls.

As reported by The Block Island Times in April 2018, the Fire Department has been working with Town Manager Ed Roberge to find a way to reduce the volunteers’ burden of answering alarm calls that in a mainland town would be answered by employees of alarm service companies.

The town's solution is to have Pinkham take the National Fire Protection Association’s test to become a “Certified Fire Inspector I” (or CFI-I). Local fire department personnel with that credential are regulated by the State of Rhode Island as Assistant Deputy State Fire Marshals.

Pinkham said in April that the local CFI-I would perform all the duties of a fire marshal under state law, most importantly enforcing the State Fire Safety Code by inspecting all private businesses – hotels, bed and breakfast homes, retail stores, the gas station, and storage facilities – and the Block Island School.

Chief Ernst said on Monday that Pinkham would respond to alarm calls during daytime hours, and would be called to a business after hours if firefighters are unable to reset an alarm system. He added Pinkham would remain a town employee in the Building Department and also report to the Fire Department. Details of the arrangement will be worked out over time, Ernst and Pinkham said.

New equipment for Rescue and Fire

Rescue Captain McConville told the membership that, effective immediately, the state is requiring the Rescue Squad to file reports electronically — on new computers she asked the Fire Department to buy, also immediately.

An up-to-date “ruggedized” laptop with particular software is needed for each ambulance, McConville continued, mandated to be in service within two or three weeks. The total cost is $12,000 to equip all three vehicles. The Rescue Squad must also purchase a mount to secure the Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) in each ambulance at a cost of $450 per unit, she said. The cost of the mounts will be reimbursed by a donor, she added.

With little discussion, the membership voted to spend up to $15,000 for the new ambulance equipment.

(According to the Mayo Clinic's web site, AEDs are used to revive someone from sudden cardiac arrest, usually when the heart beats dangerously fast or irregularly.)

Other new equipment purchases are being researched by the Fire Department. One committee said two neoprene suits used for water and ice rescues, with a sled, two rope reels and accessories, are estimated at $10,000.

A new All-Terrain Vehicle, capable of carrying a stretcher or a pump, would replace the one shared by the Fire and Police Departments.

And Ernst reported that he and member Chris Hobe had recently had a “pre-build meeting” at the manufacturer of the department's new fire engine.

Once the final design is submitted for engineering, it will take 14 months until the new truck is delivered.