Unsafe buildings, military pay dominate Onset Fire District Meeting

May 15, 2023

The fate of the derelict Onset Fire Station buildings on East Central Avenue, and the question of how much pay firefighters who join the military would continue to receive, caused passions to flare up at the Onset Fire District’s annual meeting on Monday, May 15. 

Voters approved a total of $185,000 to help pay for demolishing the two buildings. The older of the two, built in 1895, is “structurally unsound,” Prudential Committee Chair Pamela Pike said. 

The newer building, constructed in the 1940s, is currently being cleaned of lead and asbestos. There is also a 1,000-gallon fuel tank beneath the building’s concrete floor, which must be cleaned per state law.

Local residents asked the Prudential Committee what would happen to the old buildings and the land they occupy, and whether the district could restore the historic 1895 building before giving it to a nonprofit for preservation. 

“We really haven’t made a decision on the buildings,” Prudential Committee member Marcine Fernandes said. “Our main concern is getting rid of the hazardous material.” 

“I don’t know whether the district would want to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to mitigate hazards, and then give it away,” said Onset Fire Chief Jeffrey Osswald. “The building’s not safe.”

Pike said that it would be better to develop on the property, as opposed to keeping the old buildings.

Voters also unanimously approved giving Onset Fire District employees serving in the military a full 34 shifts’ worth of pay each fiscal year. After those 34 shifts, the employees would continue to be paid their Onset Fire District salaries, subtracted by their military salaries. 

The only problem was that, despite the vote, the Onset Fire District couldn’t pass the motion. The wording referenced a Massachusetts state law that applies to municipalities, but not to fire districts.

For the district to actually be able to pay the firefighters, the Prudential Committee drafted its own amendment which would give firefighters in the military 34 shifts’ worth of pay — and nothing more.

This amendment failed, and several voters harshly criticized it.

Onset firefighter Mike LeBlanc drafted a new amendment including the extra pay, which passed unanimously. 

LeBlanc said that the situation “came to light” thanks to Onset Fire Captain Ryan Quinn, who is currently deployed overseas. Quinn “would be financially impacted if the language was not amended,” LeBlanc said. 

Voters also approved $1,059,254.55 to increase firefighters’ wages across the board, $925,000 for a new fire engine and $525,000 to help pay off the loan for the current fire station.