During the Monday night Town Council meeting, Londonderry Fire Chief Darren O’Brien took a moment to thank the council, budget committee, and the public for voting in the plans to renovate the Central Command Station. “We got some busy days ahead of us. I look forward to it and I will be sure to make it something that the town is very proud of,” O’Brien said.
Fire Chief O’Brien then presented the council with the proposal of utilizing the federal government’s SAFER grant (SAFER stands for Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Responses). This grant allows communities $345 million of the federal government’s money for fire and emergency staffing needs. Chief O’Brien presented the council with a breakdown of the hiring of four firefighters over the course of three years and what the cost/share portion is to the town and the community and what the share portion is to the federal government. The total cost of the four fire fighters comes to $93,868 a year for salary and benefits of each firefighter.
O’Brien also felt that this is a good opportunity for the town to take advantage of having the federal government contribute for some of the staffing needs the fire station is looking to move forward with. Research by the fire department has also revealed that calls are steadily increasing by about 27% per year over the last five years. Fire Chief O’Brien is currently operating a staff of ten firefighters and using an eleventh firefighter to help cover the first overtime slot. This has been the operation approach for the past two years, but needs have increased and the staff will need to as well. Calls to the fire station have also increased in volume as well. The station may get as many as two, three, or even four calls at a time.
“I looked at it as a step in the right direction,” O’Brien said. “If we could get some assistance from the federal government, it wouldn’t be a major cost burden to the town for the first three years and then the town would pick up the cost after that point.” The only stipulation to this grant, however is that it is not usually awarded until the month of June and the fire department only has 180 days to enact the process of getting the firefighters they need hired. The problem with this is that it puts the hiring process off until January of 2019, so the Fire Chief would have to absorb six months of the approved budget during FY 19, which has already been established. The cost for the six months would be about $46,934 (half of $93,868) that would have to funded by the town somehow.
Town Manager Kevin Smith felt confident that with the town council’s blessing to move forward they would be able to find that money within the budget to be able to absorb the cost. Smith asked O’Brien to present to the council, because typically anytime new personnel is added it is done through the warrant article process. With the timing of the federal grant, it does not give the town the luxury to use the warrant article process. If the town chooses to approve the grant, it would require them to hire the personnel in FY 19’s budget. The council did indeed give their blessing and the Fire Chief was allowed to move forward with the SAFER grant process.