EAST PROVIDENCE — Touched upon late during the East Providence Budget Commission’s Aug. 23 meeting and a topic in the news due to Johnston’s impending departure from the program, Fire Department Chief Joseph Klucznik said to his knowledge the city’s participation in the so-called “Mutual Aid” pact with other municipalities, including Providence, will continue.
Johnston is due to cease assisting Providence at one minute past midnight the morning of Sunday, Aug. 26. The highest-ranking politician there as well as those in East Providence and North Providence created a stir several weeks ago when they jointly announced their decision to leave the loosely-based association if the Capital City did not reimburse its neighbors for the additional rescue services. To date, only Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena has followed through on the decision.
All three municipalities claim to be owed several thousands of dollars by Providence for their assistance. And while Chief Klucznik and his department continue to work with city officials in attempts to be paid, he isn’t quite sure if leaving what he called the “gentlemen’s agreement” is the proper move at this point.
“We can keep doing what we’ve been doing, which is not being paid, or we can shut off mutual aid to everyone. Those are the extremes,” Chief Klucznik said. “But if we stop, we better understand we won’t be eligible to receive anymore aid in return.”
At the Budget Commission meeting Thursday, member Michael O’Keefe posited an idea to create one flat fee to be agreed upon by East Providence and Providence going forward. The Chief, however, said the department and the city must conform to specific federal Medicare guidelines in order to be paid.
“We have to be very careful,” Chief Klucznik cautioned. “A fixed rate would be difficult to do.”
Mutual Aid, in reality, is a concept. According to the Chief, there is no document in writing with any specific parameters by which each of the cooperating departments must comply.
“This is just part of the tradition of the way we’ve always done things,” he added.
The Mutual Aid idea is actually part of a wide-ranging accord between fire departments throughout the region called the Southern New England Fire Emergency Assistance Plan, which takes into account all kinds events, like catastrophic weather occurrences and hazard waste accidents among many, many other things.
Said Chief Klucznik, “It does not spell out specifically the policy for EMS (Emergency Medical Service) between departments.”
Looking at the matter practically, the Chief said East Providence by far offers its assistance to Providence for rescue more than it receives in return. On the contrary, Providence assists East Providence more when it comes to aid by fire-fighting vehicles. Similarly, East Providence assists the smaller Barrington department more than it receives back, but Seekonk covers and aids East Providence more than it gets in return.
Attempting to stay clear of getting involved in any political motivation behind the decision, Chief Klucznik did say he has yet to have any formal discussions with city officials about finding ways to rectify the matter. Ultimately, just like what he asks of the men in his department, he will follow any direction he is given.
“I’ll do whatever my boss tells me to do, which is this case is the City Manager (Peter Graczykowski). And so far, I haven’t been told there’s been a change in policy,” Chief Klucznik concluded.