By Alex Malm
One of the major discussions during the Fire Department budget presentation to the Town Council on Nov. 4 was in regards to staffing and call volume.
It was explained by Battalion Chief, Bruce Hallowell, that they continue to have an increase in calls, with 4,163 calls in 2021, 4,447 calls in 2022, and with a projection of 4,449 calls in 2023. Since 2016, he said they have had a 27% increase in call volume.
Hallowell said one of the differences they have made is keeping a duty crew of 12 people per day, and said, “That’s the number we are holding to.”
He said in the past there have been times when they had call outs or people on vacation, they wouldn’t fill the open slots to get to 12 people per shift, as a cost savings measure.
Hallowell also spoke about mutual aid, saying year after year they generally receive more mutual aid calls, versus the amount of times they help with mutual aid calls.
“We take more than we give,” he said.
Hallowell explained that if they were to put more people on duty, they would have less mutual aid utilization. He added that while they will never eliminate mutual aid because during major calls it’s needed and other communities need it as well, however, it’s not used to be set up for day to day calls.
Fire Chief, Bo Butler, said they were proposing to add four firefighters, which would then allow them to have a paramedic on all of their fire engines, along with a reserve paramedic on what’s known as a “fly car.”
He said that essentially the paramedic would be assigned to a SUV type vehicle and would be able to go to calls as needed.
Butler noted that they have over 8,000 seniors in the community and with it, comes more calls and more severe calls, which makes paramedic resources even more valuable.
Town Council Chair, John Farrell, noted that the cost would be about $460,000 for four firefighters with benefits.
He said the question is “can our community support that from a tax standpoint.”
Farrell said the Budget Committee and the Town Council have to decide if they want to add it to a warrant article or if they want to take a risk and add it into the budget.
Town Manager, Mike Malaguti, noted that he didn’t include it as part of his proposed budget, saying that the budget passing or not would be tied to the four firefighter positions, since the proposed budget would then be more than the default budget.
Budget Committee Chair, Patrick Cassidy, asked if adding two firefighters to start with would be helpful.
“It accomplishes half of it,” Butler said, saying they would be able to utilize the fly car about half the time.
Malaguti also noted that if the warrant article were to fail, its his understanding that they wouldn’t be able to hire the additional firefighters for a year, even if they were to receive a grant to pay for it.
Deputy Fire Chief, Fred Heinrich , said the main issue is they used to have more paramedics per shift, however, due to people leaving and promotions, they have less and are in the process of training more. With fewer paramedics on shift, it means that if a paramedic is needed, and they are in a different part of town, they currently have to bring the whole duty crew to the call, along with the truck.
Heinrich said they could also consider having them start on Jan. 1, which would mean they would be looking at about $250,000 for the first year.
“That’s another option as well,” he said.
Hallowell noted that they did a proof of concept by taking one of their utility trucks and outfitted it, and when they have been able to have used extra personnel to staff it, and at times off duty personnel have come in to man it.
“That vehicle has had a substantial impact already,” Hallowelll said.
Heinrich said they would be looking at about $60,000 to $65,000 for the additional medical equipment.