Fire Department in Black; Calls, Overdoses on Rise

Despite absorbing $350,000 in unanticipated expenses, the Londonderry Fire Department is operating in the black for the first time in five years, Fire Chief Darren O’Brien reported to the Budget Committee last week.

“The process by which the Town is now giving short-term disability funds and such back to the department they come out of has been a blessing on my behalf, with the number of people we have had out,” he said.

Additionally, O’Brien reported the spending freeze his department implemented starting in February of last year and record revenues last year have helped keep their budget in line.

“Vehicle repairs, station maintenance, training – we have held off on those,” he said. “Revenues for last year were the biggest for the department going as far back as I can see in the records.”

Last year, the department brought in over $831,000 for dispatch and various permits.

Moving forward, O’Brien told the Committee at its Aug. 27 meeting that he is focused on maintaining appropriate staffing levels and outfitting the Department’s apparatus, pumps, tower, pressure truck and command car with mobile data terminals, which provide responders with critical information before they arrive on the scene.

O’Brien said he ordered a new ambulance the Town should see arrive sometime in early January or February, and he recently signed a contract for a new fire pumper, which the Department expects to receive next summer.

In an effort to save money, O’Brien is looking to refurbish an outdated vehicle, noting the savings could allow the department to purchase a small aerial device to assist when an engine is out of service.

O’Brien said the Department is also working to apply for grant funds for communication infrastructure.

Starting Sept. 1, O’Brien said he plans to drop staffing down to nine personnel; then, hopefully, return to full staffing during the winter months.

“We were blessed to have the Town hire four additional firefighters, and we are in the middle of that hiring process,” he said. “We have one new firefighter starting on Sept. 14. We are hoping to hire another in October, and the other two sometime later in the year.”

O’Brien noted the additional hire brings the Department’s staffing up to 10 personnel, 24 hours per day. If someone is out, the Department is still staffed at nine firefighters, plus a battalion chief.

Member Ted Combes asked how a proposed nursing home to be constructed in Londonderry would affect staffing and response.

“We are up 2,500 calls this year. There was definitely an uptick,” O’Brien said, noting the number of overdoses the department is responding to has increased to as high as six to seven per week. “I think we responded to three overdoses today.”

With the nursing home being built, O’Brien said the Department considered the potential increase in call volume when completing the strategic plan for population.

According to safety guidelines, Londonderry should be staffed around 14 personnel per shift.

“I would like to phase us into that as we go. A nursing home in Londonderry is something Londonderry hasn’t experienced,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien has consulted with other communities with nursing homes and said they see between 300 and 350 calls per year to those facilities.

In addition to slowly adjusting staffing to meet the needs of the growing community, O’Brien is hoping to start finding funds in his operating budget to equip apparatus with mobile data terminals, which give crews responding to a call messages from dispatch about what is going on in the building, floor plans of the building and other valuable information, such as how much water they will need, where they may encounter obstacles and where hydrants are located.

“This is something I’m hoping to phase in over time,” he said.

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