Fire Department Drops Staffing Level by One to Meet Budget

Due to end-of-the-fiscal-year budget constraints, the Fire Department must reduce staffing levels for a period of time, according to Fire Chief Darren O’Brien.

“This is, unfortunately, not ideal. The budgetary constraint we are seeing is something we generally see this time of year and we need to reduce the staffing down to a level of nine firefighters – eight plus one battalion chief,” he said.

On March 5, the Professional Fire Fighters of Londonderry Local 3160 posted a “Safety Alert Update” on its Facebook page related to the drop in staffing levels, which went into effect on March 1.

“The reduction in staff is at the Mammoth Road Fire Station, which houses two of the most technical fire trucks to operate. The ladder truck and rescue truck take a minimum of three firefighters to operate safely and effectively. Only two firefighters are staffed at this station today,” the posting states.

O’Brien said the Fire Department is working to make the transition to lower staffing levels smoother.

Those efforts include the hiring of additional firefighters to replace open positions, as well as the four additional positions the voters approved last year.

“We are still in the process of hiring the additional firefighters,” he said.

So far, the Department has hired two of the firefighters the warrant article supported and is in the process of hiring a third firefighter they hope to have on duty by April 1.

Additionally, the Department hopes to hire the fourth firefighter by the end of May, according to O’Brien.

“The taxpayers should not see any difference in response times,” he said of the temporary reduction in staffing levels. “It’s only when we have all our apparatus out mitigating multiple emergencies and we have to bring in mutual aid that you might see a delay.”

But O’Brien noted such a delay could happen even on a day all the stations are fully staffed.

“It comes in spurts,” he said, pointing to the snow on Friday, March 4 that created slippery road conditions, causing multiple car accidents on Interstate 93. “There was a major accident in Windham, so a lot of our resources were committed there. Then we had to call for mutual aid from Hudson, Salem and Hooksett because we had several calls in town.”

According to the Professional Fire Fighters of Londonderry, the Department provided mutual aid to Derry twice, as well as to Manchester and Windham last week. The Department received mutual aid from Derry four times, from Windham twice, from Hudson twice and once from Litchfield.

“Effective March 1, companies entered ‘drop down staffing,’ meaning there will be days of only nine total people on shift as opposed to the normal 10. We will still give our best efforts to provide the highest level of care to you and your loved ones,” Londonderry’s Fire Union wrote on Facebook.

Town Manager Kevin Smith said all town departments are instructed at the beginning of every fiscal year to stay within their budgets.

“No one was told any differently. They all need to stay within their budget because by law, we cannot overspend the bottom line,” he said. “The departments can’t count on other departments covering for them. In terms of staffing levels, the Fire Chief is managing the Department the best way he can to make sure he stays within the budget. Contrary to what was written on the Facebook page, if someone calls, there’s not going to be a delay in the firefighters answering that.”

“We stand behind the post. We want to be active in the community and inform the residents if their safety is involved,” said Lt. Michael Roberts, president of Local 3160.

Roberts said he met with O’Brien and Smith on Monday and the three parties could not come to agreement over the issue.

“By no means does this (Facebook) post take the position we will not be able to meet the 4- to 6-minute response requirement. But we are already stretched thin as is, and to have an effective and efficient force to meet the public’s needs, we’re simply not able to do it as effectively and efficiently without proper staffing,” he said. “Look what happened last March. The voters approved increasing staffing by one, but we don’t even have the four firefighters hired yet and the budget we have in place doesn’t support the staff in place now. We’re trying to combat this in a collaborative effort to come up with the dollar amount necessary to support our budget and the four new members the residents voted in last year.”

Roberts said he understands the Department must live within its budget just as every other department must.

“All we’re asking for is an efficient, effective force to meet the needs of the community, which is growing by leaps and bounds,” he said. “The budget is the residents’ decision. Our due diligence is to effectively inform residents and the community about what’s going on so they can make informed decisions at the polls.”

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