Council Discusses Ways to Hire More Firefighters

Budget Committee Chairman Chris Melcher found little positive from the results of a cost benefit analysis into hiring four additional firefighters.
Fire Chief Darren O’Brien told the Town Council at its budget workshop Monday night that it would do no good to hire just one firefighter, as they needed one per battalion to bring each battalion up from three to four firefighters.

O’Brien said the cost of hiring four firefighters would be $316,000 and the savings in overtime replacement costs would be $70,000 per year.
Town Council Chairman John Farrell said it had been discussed that there could be a warrant article to add one firefighter per year for four years, and asked if the department had discussed that option.
O’Brien said that would be some help but would not meet the department’s needs.
Melcher said the cost would be $316,000 for a reduction of overtime replacement of $70,000, “so there is really no cost savings there.”
Farrell said the department needed to explain to the public why it should have additional firefighters.
Councilor Joe Green suggested that one firefighter added to the department could cover replacement time, reducing replacement costs at time and a half to straight time and therefore saving the department money.
O’Brien responded that a firefighter moving among the three stations wouldn’t work because of the scheduling of 24 hour shifts and 42 hour work schedules.
Councilor Tom Dolan said they were aware that the additional staffing to bring the battalions up to four members was needed but to request four at a time would not be doable with voters. He said hiring one per year for four years was more politically and strategically acceptable.
Councilor Tom Freda asked if O’Brien could hire two firefighters at the middle of the year, which would cost the same as one firefighter for a full year. O’Brien said he could do that.
Farrell said the council understood that with the town’s growth, the Fire Department was going to require more personnel but he said there needed to be “some tough conversations about the hours.
“And I’m not exactly sure how that happens or what the conversation is or over what period of time it happens or how it is facilitated with the Town Manager or what the conversations are within the collective bargaining group, but we can’t just keep dancing around it,” Farrell said.
Budget Committee member Mark Aronson suggested the hires did not have to be funded at 100 percent but instead could be funded at 80 percent, with the remaining money picked up somewhere else.
“Let’s say the ambulance was 80 percent self supporting instead of 100 percent,” he said. “It wouldn’t make a big difference in the total budget number. That’s going to make things look better and let us play with it in a much better way and look better to the voters.”
Finance Director Susan Hickey said that wouldn’t work because the fund balance would be in a deficit.
“Because of that, the auditors would require that the general fund pay the negative amount. So if the fund is in the hole by $80,000, then the general fund would have to pay that. Over time, that eats away at our general fund, undesignated fund,” Hickey said.
The councilors also suggested the fire department could have details as the police department does. Hickey said that could not be done, as a police officer on detail is an off duty officer who gets paid by the company that requests the detail, while the firefighter would be on duty.
“The fire department could have 10 on staff where eight are medics – how would you determine which personnel gets assigned to the detail? We talked about it and it wouldn’t work. It’s not black and white,” Hickey said.
“I think the overarching message from the council is that we plan to be supportive going forward,” Farrell said. “We think we’ve changed the culture between the council and police and fire and that we are in this together to make sure everybody is safe and we take care of the community.”

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