Fire Staffing Upgrade Will Have to Wait This Year

While the Town Council agrees in principle on more staff for Fire Chief Darren O’Brien, it will have to wait its turn.

In the Jan. 16 Town Council meeting, Councilors heard from resident John Grennan during the public comment portion of the meeting. Grennan said while staffing levels have been brought up to 10 people per shift, he is concerned about the number of responders on each vehicle, which he says has not changed.

Grennan said while the staffing on the apparatus has not changed, the volume of calls, both in town and for mutual aid, has increased.

“It’s a dangerous situation,” he said.

Council Chair John Farrell said that while the Council added four firefighters in recent years, the current Fire Chief, Darren O’Brien, has also been working with the Council to “keep his budget in line.”

In the current budget season, Farrell said, the Council talked with O’Brien about staffing, noting that police have not had an increase in officers since 1993, and Public Works has been making do with the same number of employees since the 1980s. “We want to shore up these other departments,” Farrell told Grennan.

Farrell said, “It’s not that I don’t think it’s important.” But he pointed out that there are 23 warrant articles this year, including four union contracts, two potential new employees for police and two for Public Works. “It is a five-or six-page budget,” Farrell said, adding, “If the Fire Chief tells me it’s dangerous and he can’t operate this way, we will look at things differently.”

Grennan said fire staffing is different. A police car usually has one person, a snowplow has one operator. “But the Fire Department goes out more often,” he said.

Grennan said, “We moved here for the Police and Fire departments.”

If someone at his home is choking, he doesn’t want to wait 13 minutes, the average time for a Mutual Aid ambulance to respond, Grennan said.

Farrell countered that the Londonderry response time is seven minutes, and quicker than calling 9-1-1.

But if the entire Londonderry department is tied up in a crash on Route 93, with entrapment, he would have no choice but to have mutual aid, Grennan said.

“If you have to wait 13 minutes for an ambulance in 2017, something’s perverted,” Grennan said.

Grennan continued, “We make a deal with the Fire Department, as citizens of this town, to protect us. Do they have the tools they need?”

Grennan recommended a “wholistic” approach to fire staffing.

“Other departments, if they’re short-staffed, you wait,” he said., “If Fire is short-staffed, someone could die.”

Council Vice-Chair Tom Freda observed that the time had passed to do anything in this coming year’s budget. The budget has been in the works since September and has been finalized, he told Grennan. “You can come down and say this, but you can’t expect a result,” he said.

“If you had come earlier, we would have had an opportunity to look at this more deeply,” Farrell told Grennan.

While Grennan said he would like to see a study committee and would volunteer for it, Farrell told him, “We’ve had committees,” and suggested Grennan run for a Council position or other form of community involvement.

Town Manager Kevin Smith said, “When I came on staff in 2013, staffing was nine firefighters and one Battalion Chief per shift. We added four, for a capacity of 10 firefighters and four Battalion Chiefs per shift.” The apparatus staffing may be the same, but the department has grown, Smith said.

“We are trying,”  he said, “to take a balanced approach to how we grow our operation.”

O’Brien said he’s been able since July to keep staffing at 10 people per shift. He acknowledged that call volume is up 12 1/2 percent over last year, and the department is averaging 10 calls a day., They responded to 3,600 last year, he said. Mutual aid calls are up, as are simultaneous calls, he said.

O’Brien said, “Next year I’d like to talk about adding staff.”

“We are playing the hand we were dealt,” Farrell said, referring to the current budget constraints. “We give everyone the best we can with what we have.”

Newsletter Updates

Enter your email address below to subscribe to our newsletter