Voters at Deliberative Cut Cost to Add Firefighters

The voters amended and moved to the 2015 Warrant an article to fund the addition of four firefighters and firefighter paramedics.

As amended, Article 14 requires the Town to raise and appropriate $263,144 to hire the additional firefighters on a staggered schedule throughout the year, which would save the Town $136,856.

“The Fire Department is clearly understaffed, and I urge voters to accept this amendment,” said Tammy Siekmann, who submitted the citizen’s petition for Article 14, which would increase daily staffing levels from nine to 10 firefighters on a 24-hour basis.

Siekmann’s original warrant article would have required the Town to raise and appropriate $400,000 for the four additional firefighters.

Fire Chief Darren O’Brien said if he staggers his hiring of the new firefighters through the year, the Town is able to minimize its funding request for the additional firefighters in the first year.

Town Councilor Joe Green said he is opposed to the article because adding the four firefighters won’t address overtime costs that continue to run over-budget.

“This council would never do anything to harm the safety of residents,” he said. “What we need to do is get the message out to the responsible people in the room that we don’t want to keep throwing taxpayer money at the problem.”

Green argued the Town is essentially paying for the firefighters twice by raising money to add firefighters to the budget before coming to an agreement to re-work shift schedules that would address overtime costs.

“Several years ago, we agreed we’d change the way we staff due to certain contractual obligations. We have gone from $300,000 in overtime to over $850,000 in the overtime line. When the taxpayer pays their taxes, they’re already paying the $400,000, and now the $263,144 for additional firefighters,” Green said. “This is not about whether or not we want to put them on. This is an excellent department, we just need to get everyone on board and stop paying twice for something,”

“People have to consider the extent of development coming to town and how it affects our services,” said Town Councilor Jim Butler, who stepped down from his council position when Article 14 was discussed so that he could comment as a voter. “We have to be progressive. Over the last 15 years we have been taking money from the Fire Department. We’re sending two-man engines out to fires, which means there’s no one to man the pump – that’s a liability for us and not a good practice. With everything going on, I think we need to get ahead of the curve.

“We’re in good shape in other departments,” he added. “I think we can make adjustments and it won’t hurt our pockets too much. It’s the right thing to do at this stage in the game, and it will cost us more to do it down the road. Let’s do what’s right not only for taxpayers, but also for the men and women who serve our community.”

State Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry asked about the Town’s mutual aid agreements with neighboring towns, and how heavily Londonderry is relying on other communities for assistance with major fire events.

O’Brien said the Department is finding it has to utilize mutual aid more often for emergencies in Londonderry.

“The very basis of mutual aid is each community can provide for its own basic needs,” said Al Sypek of Constitution Drive. “When towns have not provided for their basic needs, the surrounding communities said they wouldn’t give them mutual aid until they provide for those basic needs.”

“The reason we have overtime is because we don’t have enough staffing. If we don’t have enough people, we have to pay them overtime,” said O’Brien, who noted the need for paramedics sometimes requires the department to pay overtime to have someone with that qualification staffed when both of their paramedics are out. “Are all of the new hires going to be paramedics? No. But if this passes, we would want to have a paramedic so if people are out we would have that extra support so we wouldn’t have to go to overtime.”

Following the meeting, the Town Council voted 2-2-1 to support Article 14, as amended, with Green and Tom Frieda voting against the article and Butler abstaining, as his son is the President of the Londonderry Firefighter’s Union.