Fire Chief Lays Out Personnel, Equipment Needs for Coming Year

When Budget Committee member Dana Coons asked Fire Chief Darren O’Brien what his priority was for the upcoming budget season – replacing an aging ambulance in need of repairs or personnel – O’Brien replied “personnel.”

O’Brien said at the committee’s Thursday, Sept. 25 meeting that 94 percent of his $6.4 million budget was for personnel costs and there wasn’t a lot of “wiggle room” to maintain three facilities. He also noted that Londonderry Fire is working with only two more people per shift than when he started with the department in 1986.

He said major developments are being built, with a housing development in the south end, Milton CAT in the north, and the Wallace Farm apartment complex on Perkins Road, among others.

“Each one has projected the need of a third of a firefighter, a half of a firefighter, a third of a firefighter, and at some point in time these are all going to add up, so I wanted to bring up to you folks that at some point in time we are going to need to do something,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien gave the Committee a handout that noted the number of calls for 2013 – a total of 3,014 calls for calendar year 2013, with 80 percent of them for rescue and emergency medical services.

O’Brien said they average eight and a half calls per day, most of them on weekdays. “Starting in February, as you have probably seen on social media, the staffing levels dropped from 10 to a level of nine,” O’Brien said. “So what we’re doing is staffing both the substations at three individuals and those individuals run on Forestry, Ambulance and whatever is called for service.”

O’Brien said that beginning at 8 p.m. they drop down to nine, a figure that includes the shift commander, and two persons run from Central station.

“We need to do that in order to try and maintain this budget and the operating lines. Is it ideal? No, but we need to do everything we can,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien said that 45 percent of the calls in 2013 were simultaneous. Two calls came in simultaneously 1,366 times, three or more calls at the same time 436 times, and five or more calls at once, 61 times.

“There were times during natural disasters like ice storms, floods or whatever that multiple calls come in at once,” he said. “It kind of taxes the services. We had a fire at the Matthew Thornton School last fall, a fire in the bathroom, and one of our staff vehicles went over there and school officials asked where was the fire truck, and it was one of those times where we had simultaneous calls and the first fire truck we could get was from Derry.”

O’Brien said that by cutting back, there is a loss of revenue to the town because when an ambulance goes on a call, the fire department gets that revenue, but when mutual aid is needed, the responding town gets the revenue and Londonderry loses it.

He said ambulance revenue was up last year by $595,000 and starting in July, Londonderry Fire started handling dispatch services for Hampstead.

“That’s been going very well, and it’s a three and a half year contract that brings $144,000 back to the town,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien said the department is also saving $36,000 by doing in-house training.

“We have an individual that comes in and trains all of our emergency medical paramedics. He comes in on a monthly basis and he does continuing education to keep all their certifications up,” he explained.

O’Brien also noted that an ambulance needed repairs but it wasn’t cost effective to keep making the repairs.

“We have a meeting scheduled with the Town Manager because of the funding that was cut last year of our capital reserve for both equipment and vehicles, that we’re finding ourselves running into a bind now because one of our ambulances, a 2007, is not cost effective for repairs versus going out and getting another vehicle,” O’Brien said.

Committee member Tim Siekmann asked if the capital accounts were funded at a certain amount every year or reduced every year.

“They were funded at I believe $150,000 which is what they were putting into them, but last year it was not funded at all and they are talking about doing the same thing this year,” O’Brien said.

Siekmann said that at some point, the equipment will have to be replaced and “they are going to say your account is empty.”

“That’s where we are now,” Battalion Chief Doug Cardwell said.

Chairman Ted Combes asked if it was the same situation with the ladder truck the department will eventually need. Cardwell said that will come out of a different account.

“Currently we have enough money in the account to pay down the liabilities that we have,” Cardwell said. He said they had purchased two pumpers in the last two fiscal years and a pumper was scheduled for this fiscal year, FY15 with a ladder truck scheduled for 2017.

“And neither one of them have funding.” Cardwell said.

He said that in the police department, the cost of ammunition went up but in the fire department the issue is tires. “Tires went up 34 percent last year,” Cardwell said.

“I’m going to ask a loaded question,” Coons said. “You say you need personnel, they are talking about at CIP (Capital Improvement Plan) redoing Central Station, well you can’t have everything. I would love to give you everything but my pockets aren’t that deep. What’s the priority?”

O’Brien responded it would be personnel.

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